WELLSVILLE - An ordinance presented at this week's meeting of Wellsville Village Council has prompted a search for answers from more than 40 years ago.
The ordinance from the Ohio Department of Transportation seeks the consent of the village to install new lighting for the state Route 7 interchanges within the borders of Wellsville. These include the on-ramps and off-ramps for Route 7 found at Clark Avenue, Aten Avenue and state Route 45. The ordinance states that ODOT will cover "100% of the necessary costs" of the project.
There is a catch, however.
"This work is going to be done on those lights by the state of Ohio, at their cost, prior to them turning those lights over to the village," said Wellsville fiscal officer Dale Davis. The ordinance specifies that once the work has been completed, all the new lighting units will become the property and responsibility of the village. To this point, the poles and fixtures have been maintained by crews from ODOT.
Wellsville Mayor Susan Haugh said the terms dictated by ODOT are absolute: Either the village agrees to take possession of the new lighting to be installed by the state, or the existing lights will be taken down without replacement. "We don't have a choice in this matter," she said.
Former Wellsville mayor Nunzio Lombardozzi, who was present at the meeting, addressed council regarding the construction that brought Route 7 through Wellsville. Lombardozzi, who served on council as chairman of the Streets, Lights and Parking Committee at the time of the project in 1969, said ODOT approached the city with a demand for $500,000 to complete the highway. He said Wellsville was in fiscal emergency at the time and could not produce the requested funds.
Instead, Lombardozzi said the city and ODOT came to an agreement wherein Wellsville would turn over the proceeds from a municipal fuel tax to cover the costs of construction and maintenance of the highway within Wellsville. He estimates the annual payments to the state at $1,700 from the 7 1/2 percent tax in the years following the project.
"We were the only city to ever get this," Lombardozzi said. "We got the highway built and we paid nothing." He said the state also covered mowing the grass in these areas, maintenance of the lighting and resurfacing of the roadway every 20 years since.
Haugh then mentioned the unkempt appearance of the interchanges, complaining of grass that in fact has not been recently mowed, contributing to a shabby image at the entrance and exit of the village. This prompted councilwoman Diane Dinch to ask Davis if the fuel tax payment is still being made to the state. He replied that, to his knowledge, no such payments have ever been made during his time with the village.
Since the meeting, Haugh said that the existence of this agreement was a surprise to her and other members of council. She also stated that if the village has failed to pay the tax proceeds to ODOT as per this agreement, then it would be rendered void. In the meantime, research is being carried out to study the terms and validity of the contract.
Rather than passage, the ordinance was put on first reading, with a second reading expected at council's next scheduled meeting on Sept. 18.