East Palestine Exempts Train Derailment Compensation from Income Tax

East Palestine, Ohio – September 27, 2023 – The Village of East Palestine has passed an ordinance to make sure no one is required to pay village income taxes on any payments they receive for derailment-related expenses or losses. The new ordinance goes into effect immediately and applies to derailment-related payments received in all of 2023 as well as future years.

Many individuals and businesses in East Palestine have received payments for expenses or losses from a variety of sources, including Norfolk Southern and others. Unless the village took this step to exempt these payments from taxes, those receiving them would have been required to pay tax on the payments all at once next April 15.

“The derailment has been a big enough burden on everyone. No one should have to pay taxes on this money after what they’ve already gone through in February and ever since,” said Mayor Trent Conaway. “The village council’s priority is to support our people and businesses in every possible way, and this tax exemption is part of that work.”

The ordinance defines train derailment compensation as any payments received for losses related to the February 3, 2023 incident, including payments for property damage, personal injury, business losses, and other expenses. 

A similar exemption has already been created for State of Ohio income taxes and one is pending in Congress for federal income taxes.

Statement from East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway regarding President Biden’s East Palestine Executive Order

The Village of East Palestine extends its gratitude to President Joe Biden for his executive order, which emphasizes the protection of our residents and surrounding communities following the Norfolk Southern train derailment.

This executive order echoes our commitment to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of everyone affected by the derailment. We appreciate the extensive cleanup, monitoring, and health assessments, and the commitment to holding Norfolk Southern accountable by all federal, state, regional and local authorities. These measures are critical for the restoration and healing of our community.

It is noteworthy to mention that the executive order does not issue a federal disaster declaration. Such a declaration would have enabled state and local authorities to directly access federal programs from FEMA. However, Ohio’s request for a disaster declaration will remain open, and will be reconsidered if FEMA receives new information warranting the declaration.

We cannot overstate the incredible efforts of our first responders, local fire departments, and the East Palestine community. Their courage, hard work and unity have shown the nation why we are, and will continue to be, a great place to call home. 

We look forward to working with the new Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator as they conduct an assessment of the unmet needs of our community. The Village of East Palestine remains committed to working together with all federal, state, and local agencies to ensure a comprehensive recovery process.

Statement Regarding the US EPA’s Comprehensive Assessment Plan

Concerns were raised over a news article published in Morning Journal and Salem News that misinterpreted a recently published US EPA report. The newspapers corrected the information with a more comprehensive story this morning. The village appreciates today’s correction. The original story caused unnecessary concerns and did not reflect what is happening. We understand these are complex issues and subject to misunderstanding.

Here is what is happening:

The US EPA, in collaboration with the village and other Unified Command partners that are managing the derailment response, is conducting a comprehensive assessment plan for properties affected by the train derailment.

This assessment is not due to concerns of contamination spreading widely, but is a precautionary measure to ensure contamination has not spread, and that clean-up activities are working. The US EPA is calling the assessment a “double-check.”

The assessment involves collecting over 2,500 samples including surface and subsurface, to ensure cleanup completeness. The village park has been confirmed to be safe for use following a thorough evaluation by the US EPA. The testing was conducted in response to the concerns raised by residents about the potential for soil contamination, and the results indicate that the park’s soil is free from harmful substances.

This ongoing assessment is part of a larger response effort that includes similar procedures for soil, groundwater, and air monitoring and sampling at the same locations. Norfolk Southern, in coordination with Unified Command, continues working to meet cleanup standards in East Palestine and the surrounding area, and we are monitoring it closely to ensure it happens.

This comprehensive assessment primarily focuses on reviewing completed actions to ensure thoroughness. The main goal is confirming the removal of all materials from affected areas. These ongoing processes are important and will continue to guarantee the complete elimination of any remaining contamination.

EP looks to purchase generator

EAST PALESTINE — The village is looking into the feasibility of purchasing a generator large enough to power an emergency shelter should there ever be another large-scale power outage of the sort that occurred on Nov. 15-17.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone, speaking at a council committee meeting this week, said he is still looking into obtaining a grant to purchase a generator that could be used to open an emergency shelter in town should another power outage on the same scale occur. Besides the police department, the only village building with a generator is the East Clark Street fire station, which was opened to the public as a temporary warming shelter during the outage.

Monteleone said they need a larger place in town with a kitchen that could serve as a shelter where residents could spend several days if needed, but the local facilities that could serve this purpose– such as the school — do not have a generator. He has been investigating what it would take to acquire a generator, and Councilman Brett Todd said it would cost about $50,000 to get one the size that is needed.

During the Nov. 15-17 outage, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at the Upper Room Fellowship outside Columbiana, where people without power could stay if they wanted and seven households chose to do so.

The committee meeting was called by acting Mayor Alan Cohen to discuss the need for speaking with one voice during emergencies and to improve the ability of council to communicate with each other during . He said they also need to determine what community facilities could be used during an emergency.

As for speaking with one voice, “I think we have to refer everything to Pete. He’s the one in charge,”Cohen said, and council appeared to agree.

Councilman DJ Yokely said social media should be the primary means for getting the word out during emergencies and it should be done quickly, and Monteleone said he updated the village’s Facebook page as he received new information. Police Chief Jim Brown said he was in constant contact with the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency and he passed whatever information he received onto Monteleone to post online.

Monteleone said he also EMA sent out alerts to East Palestine residents who signed up for the EMA’s automatic notification system, and they also had the school district do the same with parents using its all-call automated system.

“We were multifaceted in our approach,” he said, adding not only did he post updates immediately on social media and use the automated alert systems, they also contacted local TV stations and newspapers.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com 1/16/19

EP Garden Club receives donation

EAST PALESTINE — The garden club responsible for the planters in the downtown business district has recently received a $11,000 donation to put toward more beautification projects throughout town.

Tom Brittain, owner of Brittain Motors Chevrolet in East Palestine, presented the East Palestine Town and County Garden Club with the donation on behalf of his company and in memory of his late mother-in-law, Joann Kelley, who was an officer and member of the original East Palestine Garden Club.

In addition to funding more of the club’s beautification projects in the downtown, Brittain said the money will also be used for the club’s future projects to add more beauty to the village park.

Garden Club President Darlene Exposito and committee chair Bev Leake said they are hopeful the club can make more changes in the future to benefit the downtown, and the park.

“We want to make the town nice and welcoming,” Exposito said.

That idea falls in line with the club’s motto, which is “The City Beautiful.”

The club introduced the large planters in the business district last year and decorates them throughout each of the four seasons. The club spent close to three days making the large wooden snowmen by hand to place in each of the eight planters this winter, they said.

“People love them. We get a lot of good comments,” Leake said of the planters.

Leake said more planters are planned for the business district and there are many plans in the works to get started on a beautification program for the park.

The club will need to present plans to the village for approval before work can begin at the park, which would possibly happen later this year, they added.

The club is currently at about 20 members and more member are always welcome, they said.

Members pay $10 annual dues and meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month at noon at the Centenary United Methodist Church located at 40 S. Market St.

Additional donations to the club are also welcome.

For more information on becoming a member or making a donation should call Leake at 330-853-0986.


Changes made at EPFD

EAST PALESTINE — The village fire department is making some changes in order to better serve the public, and fire Chief Josh Brown said the changes will not interfere with response to emergencies.

One of the those changes is the shifting of manpower among stations in order to place firefighters at stations that are located closer to where they live.

That way, both the public and the firefighters are not at risk when firefighters are hurrying to get to the stations to respond to a call, Brown explained.

“The demographic of the fire department has kind of shifted with the bulk of our membership living on the north end of our jurisdiction. It puts the majority of our membership north of the railroad tracks that run through the middle of town,” he said.

The department currently has a roster of 37 people that provide manpower at three fire stations. Two stations are located on Main and Clark streets in East Palestine and the third is located in Unity Township.

Brown said the railroad tracks can pose a hindrance with regards to emergency response, although firefighters do have access to two bridges to get over the tracks.

He said there have been no issues with emergency response as a result of the tracks, but “it is always a concern.”

As of Thursday, manpower assignments were changed to allow for three firefighters at the Main Street station, seven at the Unity Township station, and the remainder at the Clark Street station.

“We assign them to the closest station, that way we are trying to reduce the risk to everyone involved,”Brown said.

The reassignment will not effect who responds in the event of a fire, since all three stations respond to structure fire calls per the mutual aid agreement.

The other change is a shifting of resources among the stations temporarily since the fire engine at the Unity Township station is out of service for mechanical problems and in need of repair. Both changes will have no effect on the department’s ambulance placement.

Brown said the fire engine that is out of service is owned by the New Waterford Fire Department, which will be responsible for the cost of the repair.

The engine was originally supplied to the Unity Township fire station by New Waterford when the New Waterford and East Palestine departments began manning the township fire station in 2017. The township does not have its own fire department and instead contracts with East Palestine and New Waterford for fire services.

Brown said that it made more sense to bring East Palestine’s new tanker truck to the Main Street fire station and temporarily move the fire engine from that station at the Unity Township station, since the seating arrangements on the vehicles better fit the manpower ability.

The fire truck at the Unity station seats six firefighters and holds approximately 1,000 gallons of water and has a 1,250-gallon per minute pump capability. The truck at the Main Street station seats two firefighters and and holds approximately 3,000 gallons of water and has a 1,250-gallon per minute pump capability.

There is also a utility truck that seats six firefighters that is housed at the Main Street station, Brown said.

“We determined that it was a smarter choice to realign the equipment temporarily until the apparatus that is assigned to the Unity station is repaired and back in service to better our responsibilities to provide the fire service to both East Palestine and Unity Township residents,” he said.

This change will not result in any chance in response to emergencies, he added.

“The shifting of this equipment will not change the response of the fire department or the manpower of the fire department. That remains the same regardless of where the call happens to be,” Brown said.

A notice of the changes was also posted on the East Palestine Fire Department’s Facebook page.


The lack of lights in park lamented

EAST PALESTINE — Anyone who thinks they have what it takes to organize a plan for a Christmas lights display in the East Palestine park for the future is welcome to approach the park board.

A lack of Christmas lights in the park recently prompted a discussion on the “You know You’re From East Palestine, OH When …” Facebook page.

Several people commented that they were disappointed they couldn’t take their children to see lights in the park this year and wondered why lights or decorations couldn’t be found.

Others commented that they haven’t seen a Christmas lights display in the park for several years.

The Facebook discussion was not all negative, however, with many offering suggestions and even volunteering to help get lights in the park.

Acting Mayor Alan Cohen said last week he has not seen a Christmas lights display in the park since he became a member of council in 2012.

He was not sure when the last time a display was featured in the park, but said that it has been a while.

Cohen is council’s representative to the park board and said there has not been any discussion among the board about lights in the park.

“I want people to volunteer to do things in the community. If there are people that want to step forward and start something in the community to do this, that’s wonderful. But they have to come to the park board to start it,” he explained.

Requests heard by the park board would then be presented to Village Manager Pete Monteleone for final approval, he added.

Cohen suggested that any plans for lights or decorations should be well thought out.

“Anything that you want to do that brings people into the park, we are going to get behind you and support you, but we want it to be well planned,” he said.

The park board will meet again sometime in mid-January.

“That is the community park, and it sits so empty during the wintertime. I would like to see that change,” Cohen said.

Katie White Morning Journal News

East Palestine Unions Agree To Wage Freeze

EAST PALESTINE — Two unions in the village have agreed to a wage freeze for next year.

Council approved emergency legislation last week implementing the wage freeze for both the Teamsters Local 377 and FOP unions. The freeze was the result of a decision reached during the annual wage reopeners between the village and the unions.

Police Lt. Don Johnson said after the meeting that the wage freeze was a mutual decision reached by both the village and union. The freeze will affect the five full-time officers and two full-time dispatchers represented by the FOP.

The Teamsters union represents street, park and waste department employees plus clerical employees in the water department.

Council approved the legislation with no discussion during the meeting.

The wage freeze is being implemented in the midst of council discussions regarding the overall financial state of the village. Residents are being asked to approve a .5 percent income tax increase in May.

According to the legislation, the wage freeze will not apply to any raise in pay that results from an increase due under the current contract, such as longevity, etc. The legislation also states that in the event any pay raise is given to any employee which is not due under current terms of the contracts, the wage negotiations will re-open between the union and the village.

The FOP and Teamsters unions last received wage increases in 2017 — at which time 2 percent wage increases were awarded to union members and the remaining non-union employees, who were village manager Pete Monteleone, former police Chief Kevin Dickey, fire chief Josh Brown and finance director Traci Thompson.

The 2017 increase amounted to a total of $33,585 for the year.

The unions also received 2 percent pay raises in 2016, the first year of their five year contracts.

In other business, council also approved:

— An ordinance authorizing the village manager to enter into an agreement with the Ohio Developmental Services Agency, office of Community Development, for the local administration of revolving loan funds for the Community Housing Impact and Preservation (CHIP) program.

— An ordinance authorizing finance director Traci Thompson to make supplemental appropriations for the village

Katie White Morning Journal News

Palestine officials explain need, benefits of income tax increase

EAST PALESTINE — Village officials in favor of a .5 percent income tax increase say it is needed to provide not only better, but adequate, safety services to residents.

Council has yet to actually vote on placing the tax on the ballot but will be making that decision at a future meeting.

Officials in favor said the police, fire and EMS departments are operating on skeleton crews and want to see income tax money go toward these departments, in addition to the general fund.

The village already has a 1 percent income tax and if the measure goes to the ballot and passes, those who live and work in the village would be paying on 1.5 percent total.

The village has learned that it is allowed by law to allocate a minimum of 25 percent each of potential new income tax revenue to the police department and fire department, with the remaining 50 percent going into the general fund.

The village would be allowed to increase the allocation to more than 25 percent, if it so chooses.

Thompson has estimated that a .5 percent income tax increase would generate an additional $436,542 to the village each year. That would mean that the police and fire departments would each receive an additional $109,135.

Acting Mayor Alan Cohen said the allocations for the police and fire departments would go toward general operations, including but not limited to payment of personnel, and maintenance of facilities and equipment.

According to information provided by Thompson, the increase would result in an additional yearly cost of $100 for those with an annual salary of $20,000. Those earning a salary of $50,000 would pay $250 a year and those earning a salary of $100,000 would pay $500 a year.

“Right now we have five full-time police officers. We used to have eight. Just about every law enforcement guideline will tell you that you should have at least nine or 10 full time police officers,”Cohen said.

He added that the village also doesn’t have any full time EMS.

Fire Chief Josh Brown said the new income tax wouldn’t make it possible to hire full-time EMTS, but would make it possible to be able to implement permanent part-time staff.

Right now East Palestine EMS have to miss one out of every four calls that come in due to not having enough people available, he said.

The fire department does have mutual aid agreements with the Negley and New Waterford departments.

While the fire department does have a fire levy, that money generally goes toward large dollar items like fire trucks, and not paying personnel, he added.

Village Manager Pete Monteleone said an increase could make it possible for the police department to hire another full time officer.

Police Chief James Brown III said if officers are already on calls it makes it difficult to respond to other calls when there aren’t enough police available for the village’s population.

Councilman DJ Yokley was the only one who seemed to speak out against the income tax increase.

He said he is concerned that raising taxes will only keep people from wanting to come to the village.

“We just raised water and sewer rates. This could change the dynamic of who stays and who goes,” he said, adding that residents he has spoken with are also worried about additional increases down the road.

Cohen responded that he believes the village providing “exceptional” services should be a draw for people to want to be here.

John Simon, who serves as the village’s building and zoning inspector, but wasn’t speaking in that capacity, mentioned that the village has lost more than $200,000 in income tax revenue in the last three years.

“Somehow we need to look at the businesses that we lost and look at what we can do to get those businesses back,” he said.

He added that even if the village increases taxes, if people leave, there still won’t be money for the departments.

Thompson noted that 2015 was a high income tax revenue year because of fracking.

The discussion then turned to grants, when street department employee Jerry Coblentz wondered why the village wasn’t getting many grants.

“It seems like a lot of grants are slipping through our fingers. I know it can’t go toward wages but it can go toward the general fund,” he said.

Councilman Brett Todd agreed he felt the village wasn’t doing enough to get grants, and said the village should have been working with the Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) on the water and sewer projects.

Cohen said that most grants require matching funds and if the village doesn’t have the money to pay the matching funds they can’t get the grants. He also said grant eligibility varies from community to community and that grants are awarded for specific purposes.

The meeting then took a somewhat contentious turn when employees raises were brought up.

Cohen, who sits on the union negotiating committee, and stressing the importance of the income tax increase, said that the village is currently not in a position to give employees any increases.

However, Yokley said the village has implemented 32 percent in wage increases over the last 14 years.

“We have continued to give money when we don’t have it and that is why we are in this situation,” he said.

Cohen and others said it was actually over 18 years and translates to about a 1.5 percent increase each year. Cohen and Simpson said the increases were necessary as the cost of living goes up.

Cohen told Yokley the raises were deserved, and Yokley responded that he didn’t disagree with that.


EP working for present and future

EAST PALESTINE — A change to an infrastructure project has an added benefit of preparing the village for future growth.

That change is the replacement of a siphon currently located near the park that is part of the sanitary sewer system.

Council members were briefed on the project with MS Consultants engineer Joe Leson during a utility meeting before last week’s council meeting.

Replacing the siphon is part of the village’s $7.84 million project to improve the sanitary sewer system to satisfy an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency mandate from 2011 after residents in a portion of the village complained about overflows into their basements.

The bulk of the project is the construction of a million-gallon equalization basin.

Leson and village officials believe that a new, better siphon will also help alleviate problems in the system.

“We really feel like this is an important part of the project,” Village Manager Pete Monteleone said.

Original plans called for improvements to the existing siphon.

Leson said that instead, a new siphon has been designed that has larger capacity. The new siphon would consist of three 15-inch pipes as opposed to the existing siphon’s two 14-inch pipes.

John Jurjavcic, who is the water operator in charge, said the larger siphon is nice to have in place for the future.

“What is nice about this is that if you get growth down the road you already have pipe in place,” he said, referring to the third pipe.

The siphon will add $175,000 to the project cost, however, Leson said that due to a decrease in anticipated contingencies as the project moves forward, the village likely won’t see that much of a difference.

“The overall project cost is pretty close to the same with the siphon in there,” he said, noting that construction cost would not change.

The existing siphon will remain in service while the new one is being constructed, he added.

“The idea is to alleviate a lot of the flooding upstream. It’s not a fix-all. You still could have things happening and bubbling out of your system that are still not able to get to the siphon. You are just front-loading it now to have the infrastructure later,” Leson said.

Councilman Doug Simpson said that he believes the new siphon will alleviate flooding in some other areas of the village.