BLAIRSVILLE — The borough council on Tuesday accepted the resignation notice of police officer Zachary Gustafson, who said he would step down after Friday to accept a position with the Latrobe City Police Department in Westmoreland County.
The borough Civil Service Commission is expected to conduct a test of applicants for both full-time and part-time police positions.
Gustafson’s departure opens a second vacancy on the eight-person department. Chief Michael Allman retired March 31 and the borough set a May 7 deadline for applications for the chief position.
“It’s unfortunate,” Borough Manager Tim Evans said. “He’s a great guy. We’re going to miss him.”
For now, the department is under guidance of Patrolman David Romagnoli.
There was a round of handshakes and exchanges of best wishes as council members said ‘so long’ to Evans, whose resignation to go on to other ventures takes effect at the end of the month.
“I wanted to thank Tim for all that he’s done for me since I’ve been here and all that he’s done for the borough,” consulting engineer Michael Meyer said. “He’s been a pleasure to work with. Very few managers I can think of had the knowledge, and frankly, the passion for the borough, that I have dealt with with Tim.”
“I want to thank Tim for his years of service,” borough solicitor Patrick Dougherty said. “Tim is a great person to work with, very organized. This borough is going to notice when he is gone all the things that he did in the background that people took for granted.
“As solicitor, he has made my job real easy and I appreciate all that he has done.”
Few of the borough board and authority reports presented Tuesday were constituted of much more than mentions of transition of responsibilities as Evans, who also is the zoning officer and municipal authority manager, nears his departure.
In other business Tuesday:
• Council approved a proposal by Tractor Supply for the installation of a 1,000-gallon propane storage cylinder and canister-filling facility by AmeriGas at the store parking lot at East Market and North Morrow streets.
Local AmeriGas representative Dan Williams, of Homer City, told council the facility would be designed and installed like many others that the company has installed at other Tractor Supply outlets, following National Fire Protection Association standards for safety.
Williams said the filling facility would be used only by Tractor Supply employees who complete an AmeriGas training program.
Council required AmeriGas to surround the cylinder with fencing and to install slats to shield the view of the tank from neighboring homes. The 10-by-26-foot facility will be surrounded by crash bollards to protect it from wayward vehicles.
• County Commissioner Sherene Hess paid a courtesy visit to the council, in part to get acquainted with local officials, but primarily to encourage Blairsville officials to help spread awareness of the $5.5 million of federal COVID-19 aid awarded to help jobless people and others to pay their current and past due bills.
Generally, most people who now are out of work qualify for a share of the money.
It’s also earmarked for people who rent their housing and are responsible for their utility bills.
The Emergency Rent/Utility Assistance Program, called ERAP, offers help to anyone who is in debt because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Indiana County Community Action Program and Indiana County Department of Human Services … have promoted the program but we want to see more applications,” Hess said. About 300 people so far have come forward for aid. “I want to ask everyone to reach out as much as you can in your community.”
Hess said those seeking money should phone ICCAP at (724) 465-2657 to apply for a grant.
Commiserating with borough officials, Hess said the county has been left short of necessary information about other government COVID-19 assistance for local government.
“It’s still a little unclear,” Hess said. “We are getting American Rescue Plan money and I know you are as well. Money is coming from many different titles at the federal level. We can work together to maximize those funds. We’ll come to you, we’ll do whatever partnerships that might be worthwhile.”
Hess said she expects the county, boroughs and townships to use the money for water, sewer, broadband and other services for citizens.
“It’s a real opportunity for the county to make some investments with returns that we’ll see 10, 20, 30 years down the road.”
• Borough officials briefly responded to a published protest of the borough’s road maintenance policy by Beth Barto, a resident of Elm Street in the Walnut Hill area, who has pleaded for 15 years for the borough to again care for her street.
In an article published Tuesday in the Gazette, Barto said Blairsville officials have refused to care for Elm street because the borough doesn’t own it, yet the town maintains several other nearby streets that she says are not owned by the borough.
“All those roads were paved when I arrived here in 2006,” Evans said.
“Did the borough pay for them?” councilwoman Adele Davis asked.
“I don’t know. That was before me,” Evans said.
Barto’s requests over the years for proof of ownership of the streets and the housing development on Walnut Hill have sent borough officials poring through decades of old records. Evans said some documents that would prove or refute the ownership of Elm Street, Sunset Drive, Hart Avenue and Holland Drive just couldn’t be found.
“There are some roads that I can find no deed of dedication for,” Evans said. “But when I started as borough manager, they already were paved and I continued that.
Dougherty said past practice, or the principle of “grandfathering,” allows the borough to continue maintaining streets of unproven ownership.
Regardless of whether borough officials many years ago had applied truck loads of gravel to help maintain Elm Street, Evans and Dougherty said the practice is prohibited by the borough code and will not be provided for a street the borough doesn’t own.
“The issue is this. Bob Bell, when he was solicitor, did research and determined that we don’t own that street,” Dougherty said. “I’ve confirmed that research. You do not own that street.
“If you go ahead and pave it, maintain it, tar it, chip it, whatever, you would be using borough resources on a road that’s technically not owned by the borough, not maintained by the borough, not controlled by the borough. So there’s an argument to be made that you would be misusing borough tax money.
“If the residents or the developer pave the road and get it up to code, file a deed of dedication, dedicate it to the borough, and then the borough will assume ownership and upkeep of it. That did not happen with this street.
“The other streets … obviously, it predates me if it predates Tim,” Dougherty continued. “I don’t know what you do. Unfortunately, this is a situation where she comes twice a year at least … but the borough code is really clear on what you do with it.”
Evans said Phil LaMantia, the most recent owner of the development, has covered Elm Street with rocks and gravel in recent years.
“Twenty years ago, we don’t know,” council president John Bertolino said.
Today the borough makes the final decision.
“At the end of the day, as we talked about last July, if council wants to do something different, someone could make a motion, someone could second it, and you could agree to take this over,” Dougherty said.
“We’re not going to debate this in a meeting because, in our position, we do not own that,” Bertolino said. “We told her that if she wants to hire an attorney and pursue that, that’s her choice. But our position, as we see it, it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to develop that street with taxpayer money for somebody’s driveway.”
Evans estimated a cost of $75,000 to bring Elm Street to standards. And he said the borough has turned down similar requests from residents of other dirt and stone covered streets within the borough limits.
“I feel for her, I do,” Dougherty said. “It’s unfortunate. Everybody sees what it is. But the problem is there is no solution that is a reasonable fix. It would cost you a lot of money if you want to do that.”