BELPRE – Belpre City Council passed the third and final reading Monday on legislation to prohibit text messaging while driving in the the city.

There was no new discussion on the ordinance, but Councilman John Baker, who is also chairman of council’s Police and Fire Committee, brought it before council more than a month ago in order to ensure the safety of those on and around Belpre’s roadways.

“Thank you for your hard work, Mr. Baker,” said council president Will Neff.

The legislation gives the city’s police officers the right to stop people who are text messaging while driving and not paying attention to the job at hand, Baker said.

Text messaging while driving has become a national issue with many municipalities and states discussing and enacting legislation making it illegal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008; many of those drivers were sending and reading text messages.

The ordinance does not prohibit the use of cell phones while driving, only the texting function of the devices, said associate law director Jim McCauley.

The ordinance reads that the first offense is a minor misdemeanor and the driver will be fined $150 and court costs. The second offense in one year or the first offense with an accident causing injury will be a third-degree misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

With the legislation’s passage, Belpre has become the fourth city in Ohio to enact anti-texting while driving legislation with Columbus, Toledo and Zanesville, Baker said.

Council also suspended the rules and passed all three readings of a resolution of contract between the city and Ruble’s Sternwheeler to allow the boat cruise company to use city property.

Ruble’s Sternwheeler has been operating from city property for the past few days under the agreement, which is why council needed to pass all three readings as quickly as possible.

“I think it is best that we have the contract approved by council in case a problem arises,” McCauley said.

Belpre Senior Center manager Susie Casto addressed council concerning the center’s growth and gave an update on how things are going. About 164 individual seniors have participated in more than 600 activities per month, Casto said.

“Some of our challenges are that 158 of those seniors live alone and 140 are over 60,” she said. “This tells the city and center management a little bit about the center’s needs over the next few years as we will need more and more services.”

Casto said she thinks the potential is there and the professional services are there for a larger group of people. Part of that need for growth includes an expansion of the center itself, which was brought before council by Mayor Mike Lorentz earlier this year.

The Finance and Audit Committee will discuss the financing available from the city in order to build the expansion onto the center, for which the city has some grant monies, during a 6 p.m. June 3 meeting.

“I think we are at that point to look into financing,” Lorentz said.