Titusville City Council is hoping to get a reduced assessment from Crawford County of the Joe M. Ball Hall and Murdoch Boulevard townhouses which were donated to the city from the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville.
As discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting, City Manager Larry Manross said that the Crawford County Assessment Office had valued the properties at an “extremely high” amount. Specifically, Manross said the townhouses were valued at $894,120, while Ball Hall is valued at $1,263,950, well above the $200,000 and $100,000 minimum bids respectively the city offered the properties up through a bidding process which ended Oct. 28 with no qualifying bids received.
Manross said that during open houses for the properties, a common question that came up was how high the taxes were for the buildings were. This led the city manager to inquire about the matter with the assessment office, and he found out about the high value placed on the property, which in turn would lead to higher taxes from the county.
“Obviously, this is unrealistic,” he said. “no one will buy them at this level.”
Speaking with The Herald, Manross wasn’t sure on specifically what the county taxes on the properties were. However, he said that the combined county, Titusville and Titusville Area School District taxes on the properties would amount to around $172,000 a year.
As such, the city is applying for an appeal to see if the assessment on the properties can be lowered. According to Manross, it is anticipated this will see a drastic reduction in the valuations of both properties. After words, Manross said the city could put the properties out for bid again or place them for sale on the real estate market. The city manager also said he hopes to have the sales complete before the end of the year.
Councilwoman Tamara Champion asked whether the proceeds generated from the sale could be earmarked for a specific purpose, suggesting using the money to pay match funds for future grants for the Titusville Airport. She named one such grant, a 2022 Federal Aviation Administration grant the city anticipates receiving to perform work on the airport runway. The grant comes in at $600,000, and requires a 5% match, equating to $30,000.
City Solicitor Rich Winkler said the money could be earmarked in such a matter.
Titusville Fire Department
Council will vote to re-award the bid to CBF Contracting Inc. for the second time to raise the roof of the Titusville Fire Department garage at their next meeting, following a paperwork error regarding the initial bid.
Council voted unanimously to award the contract to the company at their Oct. 22 meeting to the tune of $232,200, with a $14,486 reduction for optionally using cheaper materials. The city is set to use $146,000-worth of its 2018 Community Development Block Grant to assist in the payment.
The CDBG money was originally set for use on replacing the South Perry Street Bridge with a pedestrian bridge once the original was demolished. However, demolition of the county-owned bridge is taking longer to happen than expected, with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s timeline setting demolition for sometime after 2022. This would be beyond the three-year time limit set on spending CDBG money.
However, Manross informed council that due to a required piece of paperwork he was previously unaware of relating to the transfer, the bid would have to be awarded a second time. Specifically, Manross said that the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which manages CDBG money in Pennsylvania, indicated that an environmental study would not have to be done in order to perform the transfer. It wasn’t until after the bid was awarded that Manross was informed by the DCED that even though an environmental study wasn’t needed, a form would have to be filed saying that the city would not be performing a study related to the project.
“They said ‘Well, if you didn’t do that, you have to rebid this project,’” Manross said. “Which was horrible, because now everybody knows the value of the bids because we announced them in a public meeting.”
CBF Contracting put in a new bid at the same price point, and Manross said that no other bids were received. While this means the project can move forward should council cast an approving vote at their next meeting, it has delayed the project by a few weeks, according to Manross.
No other bids were received in the second round of bidding.
The raised roof will allow the department to park their tower ladder truck which was donated by Lower Macungie Township earlier this year inside the department garages. The vehicle is too large to fit through the vehicle entrance to the garage.
2020 city budget
A vote on the first reading of the 2020 Titusville budget will occur at the next meeting of council, with only a single minor change to the financial document.
Manross said that a line item under the Titusville Police budgets will see an increase, though he was unable to recall the specific amount at the meeting. The line item relates to the purchase of a new interceptor for the department.
The preliminary version of the budget set $35,000 for the vehicle purchase. However, Titusville Police Chief Dustin LeGoullon, who was present at the meeting, told The Herald that the price was coming closer to $40,000.
While the change will affect the line item for the vehicle, Manross said it should not affect the overall budget numbers. The 2020 budget amounted to $10,296,510 in its preliminary form.
Council will also vote on setting the tax rate for the city for 2020, with no raise anticipated.
Titusville Airport Manager Raymond Gurnee announced at the meeting that he will step down “a minute after” Manross resigns on Jan. 3.
Gurnee, who was hired in the summer, said that he was worried about reprisal from the incoming Titusville City Council members who were elected in the general election earlier this month, consisting of Jon Crouch, Dennis Peden and Roger Gordon.
Gurnee claimed that he had a conversation with Crouch at a Titusville Aero Club meeting in which Crouch said that the incoming council members planned to fire Manross. Further, he claimed that Crouch said the candidates would hire a city manager who would fire all of the employees Manross had hired.
Further, Gurnee claimed that former Titusville Airport Authority member Mike Pedensky threatened to make false accusations about Gurnee using drugs. Former Titusville Airport Manager Jim Kuhn was also present at this incident, according to Gurnee.
“That sums up all of it,” Gurnee said. “I can’t stick around for reprisal.”
However, the people named by Gurnee cast different views on the events he mentioned in speaking with The Herald. Crouch called Gurnee’s comments about him a “100% false statement.”
“He asked me specifically about a rumor that he had heard, and I told him the same thing I’ll tell you now — that council can only hire or fire one employee, and that is the manager,” Crouch said. “It is up to the manager if he wants to hire or fire anybody else.”
Pedensky, meanwhile, said that he did not threaten to falsely accuse Gurnee. Kuhn echoed Pedensky’s sentiments, and said the former authority member was talking about something different.
“The only thing I recall Mike saying was the he thought there might have been some drug activity at the airport, and he was informing Ray of it,” Kuhn said.
A ruckus was raised at the council meeting when Anthony Rotondo, who said he lives across from the airport, attempted to speak in support of Gurnee. As Rotondo attempted to speak, Titusville resident James Elliott began repeatedly asking what Rotondo’s address was and pointing out that city council meeting rules stipulate that only city taxpayers can speak at meetings. Elliott and Rotondo repeatedly raised their voices at each other, with Elliott calling the situation “absurd.”
“This is not absurd,” Rotondo said back. “It’s my turn to speak, and you keep your yap (sic) shut.”
Deputy Mayor William Adelman eventually spoke up and called for order at the meeting. Rotondo returned to his seat without speaking for the rest of the meeting.
Other meeting news
City council will hold their work session and voting meeting back-to-back on Dec. 17, rather than holding them on two separate dates. Traditionally, council holds their meetings on the third and fourth Tuesday of each month. However, as the fourth Tuesday of December would be Christmas Eve, council is instead opting to hold both meetings on the third Tuesday. The work session will be held first, and will immediately adjourn into the voting meeting.
Council is looking to fill a large number of possible vacant seats that will pop up on various city boards at the end of the year. Manross announced that it is anticipated there will be two vacancies on the Titusville Board of Health, two on the Shade Tree Commission, one on the Planning Commisison and one on the Code of Appeals board at the end of the year. He said that letters were sent to the incumbents of those various seats asking if they would like to retain their position, but he has received no reply as of yet. Councilwoman Heather Leonardi suggested that advertisements be put out regarding the potentially open seats, just in case no replies by the incumbents are received.
The next meeting of Titusville City Council will be held Nov. 26, at 6 p.m., at the Towne Square Building.
Ray can be reached, by email, at email@example.com.