Salem council OKs shale lease cash split

SALEM – City council approved the division of the $1.3 million in shale lease money Tuesday, with $650,000 going to debt, $633,442 going to capital improvements and $69,035 going to city council contingencies.

The action was based on a recommendation made by the Finance Committee of city council, which had discussed how to spend the windfall in three different meetings, deciding to split it up. The city had been sitting on the $1,352,000 since last November, the money coming from a three-year lease agreement signed last summer for mineral rights on city-owned land outside the city limits.

Auditor Betty Brothers had suggested paying off debt and Mayor John Berlin wanted the entire amount in capital improvements for paving projects and replacing the city hall roof. The Utilities Commission asked to have the money deposited in the water reserve fund, since the lease involved land purchased with water department funds.

One of the suggestions tabled by the Finance Committee, which may be discussed at a future Committee of the Whole meeting, was for council to discontinue taking the utilities interest money for the general fund.

The intentions for the money, as explained previously, are: to pay off the debt for the Pershing Street Phase I and Cunningham Bentley Connector, Phase IV projects for $650,000; put $633,442 in capital improvements to repave East Pershing from Ellsworth to Broadway and cover the city’s share of a Small Cities paving grant which could leverage more money from the state to repave Second Street, Third Street and Ellsworth Avenue in 2015; put $69,035 into a council fund that council members can use for small projects to benefit constituents, with a limit of up to $10,000 per project per council member.

One of those projects, as explained by Councilman K. Bret Apple, could be some type of cleanup, but it would be up to the individual council members to come up with projects, which would have to be approved by council. Apple chairs the Finance Committee.

Former city councilwoman Mary Lou Popa again pleaded Tuesday for a citywide cleanup for the citizens, questioning some of the comments made by Finance Committee members when they discussed the topic at a recent meeting. She said the bottom line is the need for a cleanup.

“Let’s not keep dragging our feet, to me that’s what’s being done here,” she said.

In other business, council approved a one-time lump sum payment of 2.25 percent of total wages paid in 2012 to current non-bargaining full-time employees. For general fund employees, the cost to the city would be up to $10,000 total. Affected workers under the general fund would include the fire chief, non-bargaining police lieutenant, service director, deputy auditor, administrative assistant and others.

Berlin had asked for the payment as recognition for their efforts since they received nothing in 2011 and 2012 while union workers received wage increases. The Utilities Commission also approved the one-time payment for its current non-bargaining employees, as did the Parks Commission. The estimated cost was $8,734 for utilities and $2,091 for the parks.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey questioned how much the city saved from the employee efforts, with Apple noting they didn’t have an exact figure, but there was evidence of good stewardship. Councilman Dave Nestic, another member of the Finance Committee, said the various department heads have consistently spent under budget, with Apple adding “they’ve looked for ways to save money.”

Council also approved using $8,418 left over from the Lexington Avenue drainage repair project to pave more of Continental Drive.

Meetings scheduled were:

– Rules & Ordinances Committee, 6 p.m. May 28, city hall

-Finance Committee, 6:30 p.m. June 10, city hall

-Informational meeting for council members with First Energy, 6 p.m. June 11, Depot Road location.

-Second Ward residents with Councilman Clyde Brown, 10 a.m. June 15, city hall.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at