MOUNT VERNON — Several members of Mount Vernon City Council, along with Mayor Richard Mavis, met Saturday for a monthly opportunity to answer questions and speak with their constituents about topics ranging from stray cats to brick streets and shade trees.
The resurfacing of Gay Street continues to be a hot topic with supporters of the city’s heritage and century-old brick streets. Mavis explained that once Gay Street is converted from brick to asphalt, no other streets have been approved for such conversion. In response to Miriam St. Jean’s inquiry regarding the future costs of maintaining asphalt, Mavis explained the change was necessary because Gay Street is a thoroughfare and state route.
The “traffic volume and weight of today’s trucks” is simply too much for the 100-year-old street to handle, he said, adding that asphalt should be good for 10 to 12 years.
“If we could divert 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles from the brick street areas like Gay Street, we wouldn’t have to do this,” Mavis said.
According to the mayor, Gay Street is the last designated brick street to be resurfaced. The remaining seven miles of brick streets are in the city’s residential areas and are part of a $150,000 annual effort to repair the preserved streets.
Councilman John Fair said he expects to drive through these residential neighborhoods with Safety-Service Director Dave Glass, to inspect the streets and decide which repair projects will take place this year.
Grace Fogle came to the forum to further discuss her concerns regarding feral cats in the city. She said she spoke with several council members, who all suggested she bring this topic up in the forum.
“There is a feral cat problem in the city,” Fogle said. “There are lots of half-alive, half-dead creatures running around using porches and decks and spraying everywhere.”
She said she is a concerned animal lover and believes in responsible pet ownership, but something needs to be done to rectify the situation.
“I’ve read where other cities humanely trap as many cats as possible and have them spayed or neutered. They are later released appropriately — not on someone’s farm,” Fogle said. “I’ve also read where they were released where they were trapped.”
She believes a program like this would eventually curb the number of stray and wild cats in the city. In addition, Fogle would like to see pet owners, especially cat owners, be more responsible and keep their cats inside and resist the temptation to feed stray cats. A combination of good ownership and a feral cat program, she believes, will keep numbers down and neighbors happy.
Mavis talked about how the cat shelter was created when he served as a county commissioner to help correct the problem of stray and unwanted cats.
“We thought the shelter was going to be a good solution but it’s currently more like a holding or living facility for cats,” Mavis said.
Mavis said he would ask a representative from the cat shelter to speak at a council meeting and share the shelter’s problems to see if a solution to the cat population can be found.
The upgrades to the city’s wastewater plant brought comments from throughout the group after St. Jean questioned, again, the validity of upgrading and just how much emphasis, if any, was placed on researching the cost of a new plant as opposed to the $14 million upgrade.
“The EPA holds us to certain standards. I don’t know if we can build a new plant in five years,” said Councilman Derk Demaree, referring to the 10-year plan for the plant.
Mavis said he didn’t believe the city did a good enough job “selling” the upgrades to the residents of Mount Vernon, and that the city “has to be able to defend projects like this.”
Other discussion included:
•An examination of the city’s water delivery system looked specifically at piping to see whether that may be the cause of bleaching problems with laundry came out negative, the mayor said. Preliminary results of the test did not show anything that would cause the problem.
•The Shade Tree Commission has done an excellent job, Fair said, especially around Mount Vernon High School, in planting new trees. Fair reminded residents forms are available if they want new trees. Fair said he hopes the commission will expand the program to include some of the small triangular parks found at the entrances of the city as part of a beautification project.
•The city purchased a maintainer, a small version of a road grader, that will be used to help maintain alleys, especially gravel alleys. The mayor said City Engineer Cameron Keaton is looking into the number of alleys in the city as some alleys are paved, gravel or grass.
At the end of the hourlong session, the News questioned the elected officials in attendance regarding the importance of such public forums.
“We need to be able to communicate with people,” said Fair. “This allows us to keep in touch with people in an easier way.”
“It can be intimidating to speak at council meetings,” said Councilman Bruce Hawkins, who initiated the forum. “This is a more relaxed setting that allows for easy conversation.”
“Rusty [McGibney] specifically invited me,” Demaree said. “I think it is good for the public to know things aren’t done secretly.”
Mavis said he is used to talking to residents, even in the grocery store, and it is good for citizens to have “a comfort level that allows them to approach me, or any of us, anywhere.”
Also in attendance were Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan and Tyler Fehrman, who is running for a council-at-large seat.
The forums are held at Sips, 101 S. Main St., from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month.