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Changes coming to downtown Millersport

MILLERSPORT – Concerns about pedestrian safety downtown have been discussed for years. Council member Donna Thogmartin has been relating her personal observations about the hazards to pedestrians at the Refugee Road and Lancaster Street traffic light for months.

Police Chief John Shirk presented a comprehensive report on the issue at a special council meeting Tuesday night. He has been studying it for some six months.

“It’s a bit more complicated than just stopping vehicles not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalks,” Shirk told council members. He identified eight problems:

• The speed vehicles travel through the village affects the safety of people using the crosswalks;

• Pedestrians don’t always use the two crosswalks when crossing Lancaster Street in the downtown area;

• Motorists are parking too close to the crosswalks in violation of state law which can obstruct drivers’ view of pedestrians in the crosswalk;

• Crosswalks are not visible to motorists travelling on Lancaster Street;

• No parking zones aren’t in place to keep vehicles 20 feet from crosswalks;

• Crosswalk signs are obscured by other signs;

• One crosswalk sign is too high and not visible to drivers; and

• Roadway crosswalk markings are faded.

Shirk said the problem starts at the Refugee Road and Lancaster Street traffic light and extends south to Chautauqua Boulevard. He recommends that the village consider replacing the traffic light with a 4-way stop. That would force all vehicles to stop, slowing down traffic heading south on Lancaster Street. That would also make the crosswalks at the former light safer since all traffic would have to stop and yield to pedestrians in the crosswalks. Vehicles would no longer pass a vehicle waiting to turn left onto Refugee Road by cutting around it on the right through the front of Watson’s Valero station. That’s Thogmartin’s biggest concern as those drivers are basically driving on the sidewalk.

Removing the light would cut village expenses since the village is responsible for its maintenance. It would also save some $6,000 for the mandatory upgrade to LED lights.

But it’s not a decision that village officials can make on their own. Council members unanimously agreed that Mayor Dean Severance request that the Ohio Department of Transportation (it’s an intersection on Ohio 204) conduct a traffic study on replacing the light with a 4-way stop.

Council President Dave Levacy recalled that a similar step was taken years ago only to be overturned due to a petition drive led by the Mothers Club. He is willing to try again. “We’re doing it for safety,” Severance added.

Street supervisor Gilbert Arnold, who worked closely with Shirk on the his recommendations, said the ODOT study will take at least 90 days. First, the lights at the intersection will be switched to flashing for 30 days after the 4-way signs are installed. Then the lights will be covered for the next 30 days followed by at least 30 days to evaluate the data.

Moving to a 4-way stop will also require extending the east side curb to protect the new stop sign. That curb would block direct access to one and possibly two of Watson’s four pump islands.

Shirk presented three crosswalk options. The first would remove the designated crosswalk at Chautauqua Boulevard. Pedestrians could still cross there, but would have to yield to traffic when crossing the street.

First, the Canal Road crosswalk is the most used. Eliminating the other crosswalk reduces confusion for drivers who often don’t expect two crosswalks so close together, Shirk said.

It will take some work to implement. A “no parking” zone would have to be marked from the north side of the crosswalk on both sides of Lancaster Street extending across the bridge. Another “ no parking” zone would extend 20 feet south of the crosswalk on both sides of the roadway. A crosswalk sign would have to be installed across the roadway directly over the crosswalk.

Shirk’s second option is to retain both existing crosswalks. “No parking” zones would have to be marked for both crosswalks, eliminating even more downtown parking than the first option. It would require two overhead signs or none at all. Shirk believes drivers would still be confused by the close proximity of the crosswalks.

His third option would remove both current crosswalks, replacing them with a more centrally located one. It would free up more parking spaces in the area, but would be the most expensive. The village would have to install handicap ramps in the new location in addition to installing the overhead sign and creating the “no parking” zones .

After some discussion, council members unanimously accepted option one which upgrades the Canal Drive crosswalk and eliminates the Chautauqua Boulevard one.

In other business Tuesday night, village officials are more optimistic that the pool will reopen this summer than at last week’s regular meeting. Severance said several people have now expressed interest in managing the pool. Last week, council member Chuck Mesko was very frustrated with the Ohio Department of Health’s failure to confirm space for him at a April 13 meeting on the department’s new rules for pools. He has now finally heard from them and learned that the rules will be effective next season, not in a month or two.

Last week, council members approved pool rates but held off setting operating hours. Family memberships will be $200 for the season. All membership classes will be discounted 50 percent after July 15. There will be no early payment discounts.

Individual memberships will increase to $100 while those for senior citizens (anyone with a Golden Buckeye card) will be $80. Daily rates will be free for children age two and under, $4 for children ages 3 and 4, $6 for adults age five and older, and $4 for senior citizens. Evening hours may be cut back to reduce costs and to provide more time for paid pool parties.

A few Millersport Road residents will soon have to change their addresses. It’s the last step in a process started last year when the village annexed several hundred yards of the roadway which extended the corporation limits to Lieb’s Island Road.

That move allowed the village to step down speed limits on the roadway from 50 mph to 35 mph and finally to 25 mph from the previous 50 mph that extended past the east side strip center to 25 mph at the corporation limit. It also gave the village the authority to address the east side encroachments into the road’s right-of-way. The county engineer suggested the annexation which also turned over the encroachment issue to the village.

Both sides of the roadway will now be known as Lancaster Street.

Council members also unanimously approved a revised contract with Millersport Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. The group owns both the Fairfield Beach and the Millersport fire stations. Currently, the Village pays the association $25,000 a year. The association is responsible for repairs and utilities

The new contract sets a $20,000 annual lease payment with the tenant now responsible for utilities and maintenance. The agreement is for 10 years and can be renewed for an additional 10 years. It can be terminated on 365 day notice.

The Millersport station that was built in the 1950’s needs some major work, particularly on the roof. “In reality, we need a new station,” Levacy said.

Council members also approved a three-year contract with the Ohio Housing Authority Commission for employee health insurance. The village’s current plan with Assurant will increase 13-14 percent for another year. The OHAC plan would save the village about $9,000 next year while offering much better benefits for employees.

But village officials were surprised last Wednesday when they learned that OHAC is a self-funded program, meaning that the village could be subject to assessments if the group’s claims were significantly higher than those estimated when the rates were wet. Two representatives of the sponsoring insurance agency returned to the special meeting to address questions.

Council members learned that they had to make a three year commitment and provide notice at the 30-month point if they want to leave the group. If they leave, they can’t return for two years.

Council members ultimately concluded that their initial decision to sign up for three years was worth the potential risk. “This is a better plan,” Mesko said. The plan sets rates for one year at a time. Should assessments start to mount up, village officials could still maintain their three-year commitment by reducing plan benefits.

Council members also discussed a possible land purchase with Richard Keller during the special meeting. He owns property adjacent to the village’s new water treatment plant and wellfield. There’s interest in a 5-6 acre strip. Keller offered it at $15,000 per acre and is willing to finance it for up to five years. He has a total of 34 acres in the area and council members asked him to come up with a price for all his acres.

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