SHAMOKIN - A former city councilman questioned the city clerk on the potential cost of historical restoration of the "99 Steps."

Garth Hall said during Monday's monthly meeting at City Hall that a $175,000 estimate used in the city's successful acquisition of a matching grant from the state is way too high.

The stone "99 Steps" near Lincoln and Liberty streets, long closed by the city due to disrepair, actually consists of 88 steps, he said. When the steps were made of wood, there were 99 of them, creating the nickname. When the span was re-created with stone, the number of steps was reduced by 11. That puts the estimate at nearly $2,000 a step, Hall said.

When Hall was on council with Mayor George Rozinskie - Hall resigned in September 2008 after nine months in office - he said the two agreed the wall on the steps was solid and the staircase wasn't in too dire of shape. Now, looking at the estimate, he wonders what has changed.

Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission awarded the city $25,000 for the first phase of the project. The city is required to come up with $35,000. City council plans to use funds from its annual Community Development Block Grant allocations.

Hall asked where the remaining funds will come from to complete the project at the estimated cost. He said information on the project published in The News-Item did not lay it out for the public in full detail.

Hall and City Clerk Steve Bartos argued, and at times interrupted each other, about the tone of Hall's questions and, of course, about the cost.

Bartos said the estimate is just that, an estimate, which was used to secure the grant. It is not the actual project cost because it has not yet been put out to bid, Bartos said.

The project itself, Bartos said, would be completed in two phases and would use CDBG funding.

Other business

Council voted 3-1 in favor of a plan by SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority to pursue the acquisition and demolition of a former comfort station at 515 N. Market St. as part of a rail crossing upgrade. The building is currently occupied by Sterling Tattoo Co., which has been at the site since 2001. In favor were Mayor George Rozinskie and councilmen Michael Snyder and William Strausser. Councilman William Milbrand dissented.

Council also voted to install a "miner" sign within the city, subject to PennDOT approval, if necessary. Northumberland County Council for the Arts and Humanities Executive Director Jeanne Shaffer has requested the sign, which has been displayed at the annual arts festival, be placed in a lot along Route 61 at the eastern entrance to the city.

The Barley Snyder law firm was approved by city council to move forward with negotiations of a new contract with the police union.

Milbrand said the diving board at the public pool was removed by city employees to avoid serious injury and a potential lawsuits. Several people slipped, tripped or fell, he said. The city received two estimates to replace the board: one for $3,900, and the second for $3,400, but the second company cannot deliver the board until September. No action was taken.

The city is nearing a lease agreement with a firm to occupy the basement of the American Legion Building. Eric Brightbill, of Shamokin, is planning to open an under-21 club, Club Echo, there. Bartos has been seeking a vendor to operate concessions in the space that has been planned for a community center. The city already has approved purchase of thousands of dollars of furniture for the space. The city anticipates completing renovations soon, when it will then be operated by the vendor. A contract is expected to be voted on at a special city council meeting planned for 6 p.m. July 23 at City Hall.