By Steve Novotney
Members of Wheeling City Council will cast a pair of imperative votes during their upcoming meeting on Dec. 16.
One agenda item concerns the finalization of the city’s operating budget and the proposed increase of the municipality’s sales tax. Council approved a 0.5 percent sales tax that went into effect on Oct. 1 for the purpose of financing infrastructure improvement projects and capital improvements at Wesbanco Arena.
Exemptions include unprepared foods, automobiles, and gasoline.
The monies generated by the proposed 0.5 percent increase, according to City Manager Robert Herron, would help offset the expense of the pension funds for retired members of the police and fire departments.
“The state legislature made some changes a few years ago that altered funding levels and the payment schedule,” he said. “This issue needed addressed sooner than later because of the fiscal responsibilities the city has to its employees.”
The proposal includes closing the current pension funds and beginning new ones for both departments for those who will be hired in the future.
“This pension issue has been on the city manager’s radar for some time, and it’s the best thing for the future of the city to address it now,” said Councilman Don Atkinson, who represents the city’s Fifth Ward. “This is all about stabilizing the budget for years to come and making sure this problem doesn’t put the city in a situation where solvency is in question.
“There have been many discussions about the sales tax and the User’s Fee idea that a few members of council proposed,” he said. “We had numbers to go on with the sale tax proposal but no idea how much a User’s Fee would generate.”
Also on the agenda is council’s approval of the state-mandated Comprehensive Plan, and a resolution to establish an Implementation Committee. Several citizens, including Wheeling Planning Commission Chair Howard Monroe, have worked most of the year on the study to supply ideas and proposals for the Friendly City’s future.
“This is the city’s plan, and it was designed so it could transcend Planning Commission members and city government,” explained Tom Connelly, assistant director of Economic and Community Development for the city of Wheeling. “This not a plan that’s just to be placed on a shelf somewhere once council approves it.
“This isn’t just about zoning changes,” he said. “A good example is the suggestion in the Comprehensive Plan to do a housing study, and several council members are very interested in doing that as soon as possible. They heard about the housing issue, they have recognized it, and they agree that it’s something that needs worked on.
“This way, there is no down time, and no loss of momentum,” he said. “A lot of people have been seeing a lot of positive things taking place through the city of Wheeling, but especially in the downtown district, and no one wants to see the progress be delayed in any way.
The Implementation Committee, Connelly explained, is an important resolution because it put the Comprehensive Plan to work after the New Year.
“Once the resolution passes, the members of the Planning Commission will get started identifying 10 strong citizens of the city who are willing to serve. Once those people are in place, they will start developing the working groups to organize the efforts to move forward with the suggestions within the Comprehensive Plan.
“Once council approves it, they will have a great opportunity to move the city forward,” Connelly continued. “But it’s the community’s plan, and that means members of our community will be needed to implement what they believe needs implemented.”
The last occasion when the city of Wheeling submitted a Comprehensive Plan to the state was in 1997. Several suggestions within it have since been implemented, including the reuse of the former Wheeling Stamping facility for the global headquarters for international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
“I have learned more about our city in the past year than during the decade before,” Connelly said. “While my duties for the city have led me in many directions and taught me a lot about Wheeling, this process was incredible for me.
“That’s why I think it’s important that once the Comprehensive Plan is approved by council, we should get hard copies into the hands of our local and state lawmakers, to our local colleges and universities, and to developers,” he added. “For me, this is an exciting time.”
feature photo by Steve Novotney