New Castle News

Closer Look

March 14, 2014

Council opposes law association proposal

NEW CASTLE — The majority of New Castle City Council opposes the leasing of city hall space to Neighborhood Legal Services.

The association is offering to pay the city $750 a month to rent space formerly occupied by police department, but the consensus of council is that the amount is not enough.

Last year, the majority of council said it opposed having the association use the space free of charge.

The agency offered a new proposal to council two weeks ago and Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo and members of the administration met with the association’s staff last week to discuss terms. He presented a memo to council at its work session Tuesday, outlining the association’s proposal to lease the 1,900-square-foot space.

The space — which includes five offices, two storage rooms, a conference room, restrooms and a reception area — is undergoing renovations.

Council president William Panella said the association’s proposal figures out to only $4.74 per square foot, and it “doesn’t even cover utilities.”

“I just have a difficult time giving it for $4.74. And we pay for all the utilities.”

He noted the association is currently paying $2,200 a month at the Temple Building.

The association, which provides free legal service to low-income residents on civil matters, faces the closing of its New Castle office and one in Butler because of funding cuts.

Offices in Beaver and Pittsburgh will remain open.

Michelle DeBord, managing attorney for the association, told council two weeks ago that the Lawrence County commissioners have authorized some money to allow the agency to pay rent for four to five months at the Temple Building.

In his memo, Mastrangelo suggested a one-year lease with an option to renew for one or two years. He said he supports leasing the space to the association.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting, he told council it didn’t matter to him whether or not council agreed to the offer. He said he simply was presenting the proposal to council.

“Whether you like it (the offer) or not, it’s OK with me,” he said. “You can say yes or you can say no.”

Councilman Tim Fulkerson echoed Panella’s sentiments, saying the offer is too low.

Councilman Richard Beshero said, “We owe it to see if we can find someone at a higher rate.”

But he said he has a problem with moving a business from a private building, essentially “taking money out of somebody else’s pocket.”

Beshero added that when Neighborhood Legal Services runs out of money and can’t pay the rent, the city is “going to look like the big bad wolf” if it has to remove the association.

Councilman Paul Stefano said the agency provides a good service, but asked whether the city has been marketing the space.

Business administrator Stephanie Dean said the space has never been marketed. Once the renovations are completed, she said, the long term plans are to market it.

(Email: jmanna@ncnewsonline.com)

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