City council discusses urban camp ban, approves over $350k in new spending
While an urban camp ban took center stage, the city of Wheeling adopted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new ordinances at their October 17 meeting.
At Tuesday’s Wheeling city council meeting citizens, advocates, and service providers filled the chamber as a proposal to ban urban camping was read for the first time.
Introduced by Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, the ordinance is a near replica of a similar measure adopted by the Parkersburg city council on September 26 by a vote of 7-1.
During the meeting, Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, Ward 3, said she would not support the ordinance as proposed, calling the ban “functionally ineffective, and legally precarious, and potentially unconstitutional.”
Councilor Ty Thorngate, Ward 5, offered an amendment to eliminate fines, from $100 to $500, for those who violate the proposed ordinance, saying community service would be a better ‘penalty,’ noting that people experiencing homelessness couldn’t afford it.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, Ward 1, offered an amendment allowing a managed camp to be created in the city amidst service providers shedding light on a lack of shelter capacity.
Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, and Sklavounakis, said they could support a managed camp, low barrier shelter, and other solutions offered by members of the community.
Seidler also accused service providers of profiting off of the homeless, saying the issue had become “big business” for the city of Wheeling covering people’s salaries.
He said the ban wasn’t about criminalizing homelessness, but his own colleagues used that phrase in reference to the proposal.
Fourteen people spoke against the proposal. Three spoke in support.
For a full report on the situation regarding an urban camping ban in Wheeling click here.
In other news, city manager Robert Herron addressed the council’s Finance Committee on the state of the city’s finances as the first fiscal quarter draws to a close. Revenue is at 25%, and business/occupation taxes are at 26%.
“We are right on target from a budgetary perspective,” Herron said.
The city’s Building and Planning Director, Brenda J. Delbert, asked council to approve a plan to charge $2500 for building plan reviews. Currently, the city foots the bill for necessary safety reviews for new construction in the city.
Delbert says since January the city has spent $43,000 to have the plans reviewed, adding that there is no person in-house to complete the work.
The proposal would see building plans up to 7,500 sq ft incur a cost of $2500 to the party submitting documents, with an additional $1000 charged per extra 5,000 sq ft.
“Development is increasing,” Delbert said. “It’s a good problem to have.” She added that the proposal would take some liability off the city.
The proposal was approved by the Finance Committee and moved for consideration by the full council.
Mayor Elliott recognized Ciarra Beaver during his mayor’s report to speak about a plan to build two ‘Safe Haven’ boxes in Wheeling.
The boxes would allow parents to relinquish their infant child at the Wheeling Fire Department Headquarters, and the Wheeling Fire Station on Wheeling Island, if they cannot take care of their children.
Under West Virginia law, a child can be relinquished up to thirty days after birth with no questions asked, or charges filed against the parents.
Beaver is raising money for the project, saying they need $20,000 to fully fund it.
WVU Medicine has provided $8,000 to construct the boxes.
Four ordinances were passed by the city council. These include;
A $108,505 contract with TIBA of Columbus, OH, for a parking system at the Market Street Parking Structure,
The designation of Chayo’s Tacos, 2202 National Road, as a redevelopment area allowing the business to serve alcoholic beverages,
A $20,000 grant for an outdoor eating space at Sarah’s on Main,
And the purchase of a mobile stage with $258,850 in ARPA funding.
The ordinance purchasing a mobile stage was amended from a previous cost of $221,000 to allow for necessary structural improvements to accommodate large performances, like the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra.
Most members used their comment period to discuss the urban camping ban, but some made time to ask questions and update their constituents.
Thalman inquired about the timeline of the downtown splash pad and a city-owned sidewalk repair program. No update was given on the splash pad, but Herron said engineers were researching the costs for city-owned sidewalk repairs.
Thalman also spoke about a recurring issue with street sweepers. Citizens have complained that sometimes the cleaners do not come to their street. Worse, when these sweepers miss the designated streets, some residents still receive tickets for not moving their vehicles.
Herron said the city was working to communicate issues with the sweepers. He added that the city owns three of the vehicles, with two in operation.
The city has not purchased a new street sweeped in twenty years.
Councilor Dave Palmer, Ward 6, said the Elm Grove Crime Watch meeting would take place on October 18 at 5:30.
Palmer also thanked Wheeling Police Department officers for what he said was an increased presence at school zones. Palmer says this isn’t about tickets, but encouraging folks to slow down.
Ketchum noted a recent visit by students of Wheeling Country Day School, who learned about their city government and informed the councilor of problems with raccoons and groundhogs in the city.
She also notified East Wheeling residents of a community engagement event regarding the future of the Clay school to take place October 19 from 6:00 to 9:00 at the soccer field. Ketchum says this event will help gather data on what residents want to see in their community.
During his city manager report, Herron said mobilization around the former OVMC demolition project had begun. Fencing was put into place last month.
Community Bank won a competitive bid to fund the project.
Ketchum inquired if the city manager and city staff could communicate with downtown businesses regarding street closures during the ongoing streetscape project. Herron said he will bring the concern to a WV DOH meeting October 18.
Ketchum also requested crosswalks be added outside Ritchie Elementary.
Three original proposals were heard by the council for a first reading, including:
Amending and re-enacting Article 533 of the city’s code to prohibit camping on public land,
A $50,592 purchase of fire extinguisher training equipment,
The transfer of $175,000 to the Ohio Valley Area Development Corporation for economic development.
Council entered a brief executive session to discuss ‘property acquisition,’ but returned with no decision having been made.
In the full article detailing the response to a proposed ban on urban camping, several people who spoke are summarized. Below will be a summary of those not mentioned.
RJ, board chair of the Northern Panhandle Continuum of Care, spoke in opposition of the ban. He says camps are not a solution, but can be interim solutions to assist those unsheltered. RJ invited members of the council to meet with the board.
Catherine Bowe (sp), who owns property in the Centre Market, says her 100 year old door handle was stolen. She says small businesses are hurt by the homeless population, who she alleges are “out of state.”
Bowe described a story of an “out of state” homeless person threatening to stab “a youth” on the Tunnel Green trail. She says she offered the man housing, to which he refused. Bowe says housing is the only clear goal to solving the homelessness issue.
Ryan Ewing, Wheeling resident who was formerly homeless, supports a managed camp. He refuted data cited to support the ban, adding that all the alleged crimes had yet to be proven guilty. Ewing said one in three West Virginians have a criminal record, and that former crimes shouldn’t be used to ban camps.
Connor Morrison, property owner in Wheeling, says there is not enough shelter capacity to handle a camping ban. Morrison read a letter from Nic Cochran who works at a treatment home. In the letter, Cochran says the ban punishes individuals for systemic issues, adding that you cannot fine people into housing.
Beth Collins, Sisters of St. Joseph, says a ban goes against the faith teachings she and others have learned. As a former Parkersburg resident, Collins says Wheeling should not copy the city. She says the ban will increase crime, cause constant movement of people, and add to the issues of overcrowded jails.
The city council will reconvene on November 7, at which time the proposed ban could come for a vote, be amended, or be tabled. It is not clear what the path forward is for adoption of the ban.
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