By HOWARD BALABAN
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Tensions ran a little higher than normal for a few minutes at an informational meeting before the regularly scheduled Albion Village Board meeting Wednesday night.
The open session concerned the Clarendon Street Bridge over the Falls Road Railroad, and several residents voiced their opinions over the costs of replacing the bridge. According to various reports the bridge has fallen into a state of disrepair over the years.
Kevin Miller of Bergmann Associates helped the board field questions. Miller said the bridge’s substructure was “heavily deteriorated” and “half the beams are shot.”
Village resident Vincent Navarra essentially asked why the village decided to tackle the bridge project now since the span has been considered in poor shape for several years.
MIller said the bridge did in fact receive several “flags” but still managed to pass inspection upon further review.
Miller said the preferred alternative for the bridge was total reconstruction. Rehabilitating the structure entirely would be too costly, and removing it would cost more than replacing it. Replacing only the superstructure is marginally less expensive than replacing the whole thing, hence the reconstruction recommendations.
Another problem with removing the bridge to create an at-grade railroad crossing would be the legal red tape, Miller said. “You’d need a hearing with an administrative law judge in order to get approval to do that,” he said. The reason for the hearing is the addition of another railroad crossing in the village would increase the train-car collision potential. Creating an at-grade crossing on Clarendon Street could mean other railroad crossings would need to close.
Trustee Pete Sidari, who said he did not travel on the bridge frequently, tried to reason with some adamant taxpayers in attendance who asked why the board was even considering building a bridge.
“We would be remiss if we leave it up as it is,” Sidari said, alluding to the decay in and on the bridge. “The bottom line to me is how much would it cost for a new one versus how much would it cost to take it down. And since a lot of it is paid for with a grant, why should we take it down if it costs more?”
Several village residents were also former trustees. One, former Mayor Ed Salvatore, asked who actually owned the bridge because he found it odd that it belonged to the village. He also advocated for having the bridge removed. When he was told the village would only wind up paying around $100,000 after 95 percent reimbursement by the state and federal government from a grant, he still questioned the need for the bridge.
Mayor Dean Theodorakos said he found it disappointing that Salvatore could not see the advantage of using grant money.
“How much did you take when you were sitting here?” he asked, referring to grant money for village projects. He added, “Don’t turn it around now that you’re in the audience, because you know someone from (a more affluent municipality) would take it.”
Theodorakos said the village has roughly $100,000 for the project. That money, he said, would likely be enough or nearly enough for a completely new bridge. Otherwise, more money would need to be spent to have a split Clarendon Street, with dead ends on either side of the railroad tracks.
Local business owner Joe Martillotta said the grant money still comes from taxpayers, though. “If money comes from the state or the federal government, it’s still coming from taxpayers,” he said.
Martillotta said he had a philosophical problem with the belief that Albion taxpayers would be largely unaffected on their taxes. “In the long run…we’re still paying,” he said, noting it was that way across the country.
Trustee Eileen Banker said she understood Martillotta’s concern, but she asked whether not having the Clarendon Street bridge would affect his business. (He said it would.) She also said it is the village’s job to look out for the best interest of its constituents, and not to solve the nation’s tax problems. She echoed Theodorakos’s sentiment that some other municipality would use the grant money if Albion did not, so it made sense for the village to use what it had.
A presentation after the informal meeting answered many citizens’ questions, but left Martillotta with one.
“I find it funny how we can increase site lines by 18 feet, and still keep the intersection of Crimson and Clarendon on the south side of the road very dangerous, but we can’t remove the bridge and have an at-grade crossing because of the potential for a train to hit a car?” he said.
But, as Sidari had said earlier, the costs to rebuild versus the costs to remove made sense to him.
“We’d be paying a couple hundred thousand for no bridge instead of only $90,000 to $100,000 for a new bridge,” he said. “It just makes sense.”
A final decision on the project will be made at a later date.
IN OTHER NEWS, the village board adopted its budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The budget includes a tax levy increase from $2,359,604.05 to $2,419,975.88, a difference of $60,371.83 (2.5 percent).
The tax rate will move from $16.37 per $1,000 of assessed value to $16.86, which is up 49 cents (3 percent). Theodorakos said the village barely fell within the allowable increase in the tax levy increase. He also said the rate increase was partially due to decreasing assessed values within the village limits.
Theodorakos noted the budget still allows for several “significant” street and drainage projects to take place this coming year. He said village services will still continue, too.
The budget passed by a vote of four to one. Trustee Fred Miller was the dissenting vote.