Summitville may not last much longer as village

SUMMITVILLE – Like Rogers, the even smaller village of Summitville is to the point where it has trouble finding people to serve on council and is unable to provide much in the way of services beyond keeping the street lights on.

The council issue has been resolved with a new slate of members, but the funding problem remains and dominated much of the discussion at this week’s Summitville Village Council meeting.

Council adopted a 2014 budget in the amount of $42,023, where the biggest expenditure is the $6,500 spent annually to keep the 42 street lights operating. The village does not have a street department, with Franklin Township providing assistance by plowing the streets since the village lies within the township.

The only other service provided residents is fire protection through a contract with the township fire department. The money for the contract comes from a 1-mill fire levy.

The village had a police officer, Stephen Thomas, who worked 50 hours per month until the state legislature passed a law in 2013 abolishing mayor’s courts in villages with less than 201 residents. Summitville has 135 residents.

The money from traffic tickets processed through mayor’s court was used to help fund the police department. Without that source of income, council decided having a police officer was something the village could no longer afford and sold the police cruiser in 2013 for $8,000. Meanwhile, Thomas turned in his resignation at this week’s meeting.

“That’s the problem. The need is greater than the money available,” said Mayor Robert Marra. “In my personal opinion, I don’t know how long these small villages will last,” especially in the face of local funding cuts at the state level,.

Fiscal Officer Bonnie Moore, who was appointed in November, said she is still working to get a handle on the village’s financial records, which were poorly maintained. After taking office she discovered about $5,000 in uncashed checks, some dating back to 2008. Moore cashed the checks after contacting the banks to get them reissued.

She is the village’s third fiscal officer in less than three years. The fiscal officer who served until late 2012, Jennifer L. Burton, is awaiting trial in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court for allegedly stealing more than $1,000 from the village. The money represented fines and court costs collected while the 34-year-old Burton served as the mayor’s court clerk.

Marra was asked if Summitville council, like Rogers, has ever considered dissolving and becoming part of the township.

“It’s been discussed,” he said. “I’m leaning toward that because what are you going to lose?”

Because of the village’s finances, council could not decide whether to renew the contract of village solicitor Andy Beech, who was paid about $300 for his services last year.

Council member Fred May said although Beech “does a good job,” he believes his $90 hourly rate was excessive.

Marra disagreed, saying, “I think that’s pretty cheap, but that’s my opinion.” He said they used Beech about six times last year and believes it was money well spent.

May wondered if they were required by law to have a solicitor and then suggested perhaps they shop around for a cheaper attorney.

“That’s fine, but council needs to find what’s out there,” Marra said, adding there was a big difference in service between Beech and their previous solicitor.

The discussion later turned to whether they are required to have a village marshal and to pose that question to the solicitor. In the meantime, Marra said he will advise county Sheriff Ray Stone they are without police service.

“As he drives to (patrol) Salineville, I’ll ask him to go this way,” he joked.

In other business, council voted to be paid once a year instead of monthly. Currently paid $35 per meeting, council members will instead be paid a lump sum of $420 based on 12 monthly meetings, with the amount adjusted depending on how many meetings they actually attend.

In contrast, the mayor is paid $1 per year, while the fiscal officer is paid $400 per month.

Other council members besides May are Randy Brown, Nancy May, Shirley Clark, Sally Brown and Corey Griffith.

Council’s next meeting is 7 p.m. March 18, but otherwise the meeting schedule will remain the same for the rest of the year: 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month.