Government

Council Approves Court Deal, Holds on Sidewalks

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – City Council last night approved appropriating $7.75 million to renovate the City Hall Annex for Youngstown Municipal Court, but deferred action on legislation to force downtown business and property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice.

Allocating funds for the court project settles a lawsuit the courts filed charging their current space on the second floor was inadequate. The voted followed an executive session between members of council, Mayor John McNally and municipal court representatives and legal counsel.

The project will involve constructing three courtrooms on the third floor of the annex building, which for several years housed the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court, and renovating space for the clerk of courts and probation offices on the third floor and prisoner holding area in the basement, said Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly. The courts will not require the entire first or third floors, she said.

“This day was a long time coming and this particular mayor, this particular administration and this particular council worked with us instead of against us,” Kobly said.

Law Director Martin Hume said settling the litigation with the judges was his top priority when he became law director. He hoped the courts would be in their new home in a year and half.

The move will provide the court with an “adequate facility” with state-of-the-art safety, Kobly said. Witnesses and defendants will have separate entrances and will no longer be able to interact. “We couldn’t keep the defendants away from the victims,” she said.

Relocating the city courts and clerk of courts office to the annex building will create space in City Hall for the city to move the newly established department of community planning and economic development back into the building, one of McNally’s goals since he became mayor.

The former community and planning departments were located in the annex prior to the merger with economic development. The merged department is now located in the city-owned 20 Federal Place Building.

After signing it out of committee, council members moved the proposed sidewalk legislation to a third reading. McNally introduced the legislation, which would fine downtown business and property owners for not keeping their sidewalks clear of snow and ice, following stories by The Business Journal.

One possibility being discussed is forming a special improvement, in which businesses and landlords would agree to be assessed to cover the costs of snow removal and other downtown maintenance.

“It’s still something they have to be acceptable to and they have not really bought into that,” said T. Sharon Woodberry, director of community planning and economic development.

If no amendments are brought to the legislation, it will go up for an up-or-down vote at council’s next meeting, McNally said. Four votes would be required for passage.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.