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Mayor updates Akron Council on CSO project

3/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Council also passes 2014 operating budget

DOWNTOWN AKRON — In a late afternoon session with all 13 Akron City Council members March 17, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic made it clear he wants as many Akron residents working on the city’s massive sewer project as possible.

During the two-hour meeting held at the request of Council President Garry Moneypenny (D-Ward 10), Plusquellic said the city plans to require that contractors who are awarded bids for work to alleviate combined sewer overflows (CSOs) devote a certain percentage of project work hours to Akron residents. Plans now are for that percentage to be set at 30 percent this year and increase in increments of 5 percent every year until reaching 50 percent.

Plusquellic said companies also would be given bid credits for employing Akron residents, and would be penalized — and likely not hired again — for failing to satisfy the local hiring requirements.

“We want to let the contractors and labor organizations and everyone know that this is what we want to do … so that they can start to prepare,” Plusquellic said. “This is something that I believe will result in our getting more of our residents hired.”

The mayor stressed he would have no sympathy for those companies who violate the local hiring policy set forth by the city.

“I believe that we have a responsibility, and I intend to carry it out,” he said. “We will enforce this in every way possible.”

Plusquellic said the city is attempting to find a balancing point between what can get more residents put to work and what will stand against a challenge in court. Several cities have had their local hiring policies struck down in court.

“We have to look at everything we do in the context of the other decisions that are out there,” the mayor said.

Akron is attempting to model its policy after that of San Francisco, which currently has in place a 20 percent requirement increasing to 50 percent over seven years, Plusquellic said. Other cities with local hiring policies in place with percentages ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent are Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Miami, according to Plusquellic.

The mayor noted that contractors will be asked to make their best efforts to hire minority and female workers, but the city cannot, by law, set “quotas” for the hiring of a certain number of minority and female workers.

Plusquellic said efforts continue to develop an Integrated Plan with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the numerous large-scale projects the city is being required to undertake to fix the discharge of sewage into local waterways. He said the EPA is re-evaluating its stance that cities should set sewer rates at 2 percent on their residents’ median income.

Akron City Council approved rate increases in February that would bring ratepayer’s sewer bills in line with the EPA’s guidelines on affordability. Plusquellic said he hopes to have more information next month on the EPA’s re-evaluation of its standards on cities’ ability to pay for massive CSO projects.

In other discussion during the sewer meeting, Plusquellic and Moneypenny responded to the suggestion from Council members Russel Neal Jr. (D-Ward 4) and Linda Omobien (D-at large) that Council not be asked to pass legislation pertaining to the construction projects on an emergency basis. Legislation that comes before Council contains a boilerplate clause “declaring an emergency” so that the legislation does not need to be read in at several consecutive meetings before being passed and would not take 30 days to go into effect.

Neal and Omobien said they have heard concerns from community members regarding legislation being passed on emergency.

Plusquellic noted the clause is a technical, legal term to allow any ordinance to be passed on the night it’s introduced when necessary. He said he has communicated to city department heads they not push for immediate passage unless it truly is needed.

Moneypenny said that as Council president, he has made an attempt to slow down the process for the benefit of city residents and allow more than one week on more of the legislation coming before Council.

Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) pointed out Council considered the recent ordinance raising sewer rates for 28 days before passing it.

In other business, Council unanimously approved the 2014 operating budget at just more than $500 million. There was little discussion on the budget legislation, which was introduced last week.

Income tax revenue is expected to be up 2.5 percent this year; however, local government funding has decreased significantly, from $14 million in 2007 to $6.1 million. Other state funding is down as well, said Budget and Finance Chairman Mike Freeman (D-Ward 9).

In other legislative action, Council approved a bond issuance of $50 million for the community learning center building project. Freeman said this is the third issuance and sale of bonds for the project. The state will match the funding, which means $100 million will go toward the construction of the next 10 buildings, he said.

The next Akron City Council meeting will take place March 24 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. in Downtown Akron. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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