Stack's Future Remains Unclear

ST. MARYS — The future of one of the staples of the city of St. Marys’ skyline remains in limbo.

During Monday night’s meeting, St. Marys City Councilors approved a recommendation by a 4-1 vote to move forward with the demolition of the former power plant’s smoke stack. John Bubp, the 1st Ward Councilor, voted against the measure and two city councilors — Dennis Vossler and Jim Harris — were absent.

The recommendation followed a similar one passed last week by members of the city’s finance committee, citing unknown future maintenance costs that could be associated with the stack. In June, Safety-Service Director Jason Little opened bids for the stack’s demolition — which ranged from $116,700 to $194,874. The estimate to repair the smoke stack is $125,000. City officials also investigated the possibility of placing a cellular phone antenna atop the stack, which could generate between $5,000 to $10,000 a year on a lease. Maintenance costs on the stack are expected to be between $15,000 and $25,000 every five to eight years.

Bill Slemmons, the 3rd Ward Councilor and a finance committee member, noted the unknown future costs of the stack led to the recommendation against keeping the structure.

“The maintenance on the smoke stack is really going to cost us,” Slemmons said. “It’s what I call the money hole and we are going to be throwing a lot of money down there.”

The recommendation city councilors passed does not bind city administrators. City Law Director Kraig Noble said councilors authorized the project when they approved the 2012 budget because money was appropriated for the stack’s demolition.

“You’ve authorized that,” Noble said. “It’s up to the administration if they want to proceed or not .... Jason said he wanted some input from council because there had been some discussion of possibly keeping it. Since it’s been authorized, it’s up to the administration.”

Noble, who admitted he wanted to save the structure, said he has been in contact with an attorney in Columbus who works with firms that place antennas on structures. Noble said he expected to hear back from the attorney this morning.

“We’re still investigating,” Noble said. “He said putting a top on it would prevent a lot of that (damage) from occurring.”

Councilor-at-large Bob Fitzgerald said while possible lease income and maintenance costs could be a wash, securing a long-term tenant could prove difficult.

“It’s a wash if we can keep someone in contract with the satellite or cellular phone company,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s going to be the task if we do keep it is to try and find someone we can long-term commit to staying there.”

In casting the lone dissenting vote, Bubp said he believed the issue should be investigated further.

“I really thought we needed more discussion on it,” Bubp told The Evening Leader following the meeting. “I understand the cost side of it but there’s also the citizens of St. Marys saying half of us want to keep it.”

Bubp said pulling the residents together to see if a common solution could be made to save the structure could be beneficial to the city.

“It would be kind of neat to get the whole community involved (and) come up with an idea as to how we can make the stack stand out and be a symbol for St. Marys,” Bubp said. “I think some more discussion is needed.”

Mayor Pat McGowan told The Evening Leader he has yet to reach a decision on the stack’s future. He also noted while there was money placed in the budget to tear down the stack, there was no funding appropriated to save it.

“I’d like to hear some more facts on it first before we do it,” McGowan said after the meeting. “I’d really like to hear what the citizens of St. Marys have to say and I’d like to hear what information Kraig Noble brings back. The thing has been there for 70 years ... So I’m not going to rush to tear it down.”

McGowan admitted to being “torn” on the issue.

“I love historical things,” McGowan said. “If it was a building or something like that, that would be (easier). I think I’d like to hear some more information before I rush to it.”

McGowan encouraged residents to voice their opinions.

“I think people should let their thoughts known, either in the letters to the editor or call up here,” McGowan said. “Let us know what you want.”

In other business, councilors:

• Approved the second reading of an ordinance regarding the storage and impoundment of unlicensed and disabled vehicles.

• Approved the second reading of an emergency resolution authorizing an agreement with HP Enterprise Services for payment of income tax via credit cards.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance approving the editing and inclusion of certain ordinances as part of the various component codes of the city’s codified ordinances.

• Approved the first reading of a resolution regarding the 2013 budget.

• Heard a presentation from Bob Valentine regarding U.N. Agenda 21.

• Set water/wastewater and solidwaste committee meetings for 5:15 p.m. and 5:25 p.m. Aug. 6 respectively.

The next meeting of the St. Marys City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at the city building located along East Spring Street.