Wheeling City Council Enters Last Year of Term
The Wheeling City Council met to discuss splash pads, grant programs with HUD, and ARPA funds.
It’s official–the current City Council of Wheeling is in its final year of service. After today’s July 5 meeting, there are just 23 scheduled meetings until a new Council and Mayor are sworn in.
The City of Wheeling also started its new fiscal year. To celebrate, the Council’s Finance Committee met to discuss the disbursement of remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding. The funds, known as ARPA, must be used by December 2024.
The Finance Committee and members of Council considered three proposals for funding–the purchase of a new ambulance for the Wheeling Fire Department EMS, the purchase of a mobile stage, and funding for renovations at the historic Centre Market.
Out of the three, only the proposal for an ambulance was approved to be considered at the July 18 City Council meeting. “When it comes to infrastructure and first responders it’s our top priority,” Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, said. Chief Jim Blazier of the WFD said “miles on our vehicles are like dog years,” meaning wear and tear are worse than on citizen vehicles.
Conversations over ARPA funding revolved around the fact that money was drying up quickly. Mayor Glenn Elliott asked if there would be any funding left if all three proposals were approved, to which Councilor David Palmer, Ward 6, and Chairman of the Finance Committee, said yes.
The use of ARPA funds was not the only controversial topic up for discussion at the City Council meeting. Splash pads, which have been contentious since they were proposed in May, finally saw decisions be made. The ‘will they or won’t they’ was answered, with both being the answer.
First, the Council considered a contract with CT Consultants, of Mentor, OH, to engineer proposed splash pads outside of the WesBanco Arena and in Warwood’s Garden Park pool. When discussion on the topic was opened it wasn’t the $66,000 contract that drew controversy, but the next two ordinances for final approval.
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, Ward 3, asked if, in the event one pad was approved and another rejected, could the engineering costs be recouped. City Manager Robert Herron agreed.
Councilor Palmer said he couldn’t understand why the city would spend $800,000–the estimated cost of completing both splash pads–when the city already has four. “They’re used for three months,” Councilor Palmer said. “We have no revenue.”
Ultimately, the ordinance was adopted by a 5 to 2 vote, with Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, and Councilor Palmer voting in the negative.
The Council then considered the splash pads themselves. The WesBanco Arena splash pad was approved with a 6 to 1 vote, with Councilor Palmer in the negative. The project will be constructed by Savage Construction, of Wheeling, at a cost of $348,500.
Before voting on the Warwood splash pad, Councilor Ketchum said she was concerned how ARPA funds were being spent, noting other projects she felt deserved funding and citing the larger price tag on this splash pad.
Councilor Seidler said he’d rather fund LifeHub. “If I have to pick between where we can spend money on and where we might have to slide, if we can keep people from being homeless and help them restore their families and lives–I mean, if I have to pick between a splash pad and that it’s a no brainer for me,” Councilor Seidler said.
In a rare legislative rebuke the Warwood splash pad was rejected by a vote of 3 to 4, with Councilor Sklavounakis, Councilor Palmer, Councilor Ketchum, and Councilor Seidler, each voting in the negative.
A $250,000 request by the YWCA of Wheeling was approved unanimously. Funded through ARPA, the money will support the organization in its million-dollar project to renovate their historic homebase.
During his mayor’s report, Mayor Elliott made note of the council’s last year, and his last year in office. He reminded folks to attend his State of the City address at 12:00 on July 25, at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. Admission is free, with a $15 charge for lunch.
Mayor Elliott said the August 1 meeting will take place at Oglebay’s Wilson Lodge. The West Virginia Municipal League will be holding its 54th Annual Summer Conference at Oglebay during the meeting, and the Council has previously moved its meeting there for the same reason.
Speaking about the July 4 ‘Celebrate America’ concert by the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, Mayor Elliott said the event was “simply spectacular” and a good test for the city. “The city can still work even with the roads in the condition that they are,” Mayor Elliott said.
During his City Manager report, City Manager Herron said he was proud to show the community the new Wheeling Police Department Headquarters. A ribbon cutting and open house is scheduled for 4:00 Wednesday, July 5.
Members of Council were given the opportunity to offer remarks.
Councilor Palmer asked his colleagues to provide input about the budget and Finance Committee before their next meeting scheduled July 18.
Councilor Seidler compliments the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, the fireworks show, and the city employees who made it happen.
Seidler, again, through his support behind the LifeHub. “I cannot think of a more important issue than this,” he said. Seidler continued, saying he “hands it to Melissa Adams,” the Homeless Liaison, saying he thought she would be a “sieve on the city and drain [our budget] but she hasn’t.” He requested a $200,000 proposal for the LifeHub be considered at their July 18 meeting.
Councilor Ketchum commented on the recent Fortune WELL magazine ranking Wheeling the 33rd best place to raise a family. She noted that Wheeling was the only West Virginia city named on the list. Ketchum invited members of the public to her July 11 office hours, held from 11:00 to 1:00 at the Centre Market.
Councilor Sklavounakis said he wanted to mention the Fortune WELL magazine as well, but said Ketchum had done a good job of speaking about it. He added that it’s good they recognize the achievement, and said it meant Wheeling was on the right track. Sklavounakis asked for a meeting with LifeHub stakeholders before funding was allocated. He ended by saying he hopes everyone is enjoying their summer.
Several original proposals were made today. Two agreements with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) were given a first reading.
CDBG funding for the Soup Kitchen, Seeing Hand Association, Family Services, and Wheeling Health Right, a $16,000 contract with Dezurik Inc, of Cannonsburg, PA, to rebuild a lift station in Warwood, and $201,000 in ARPA funding for Vineyard Church, of Wheeling, to build a playground at Market Plaza, were given first readings to be considered at the July 18 meeting.
A $17,900 contract with Precision Odor Control, of Hinckley, OH, was suggested as a first step to solving the issue of foul odors surrounding the wastewater treatment plant that often causes much of Center and South Wheeling to smell.
The Council approved a first and second reading of the ordinance, meaning they could vote on the item immediately. Typically, an item up for vote must be read twice at two separate meetings. The ordinance was approved unanimously.
The Council unanimously approved a resolution using ARPA funding to cover the cost of payroll expenses of public health and safety employees incurred from March 3, 2021 through December 31, 2024. This use is in the letter of the law, but contrasts with a Council worried about lacking funding for projects they consider deserving.
The Council also approved unanimously the $525,000 purchase of trucks and loaders for the Department of Operations, funded through ARPA.
Members of the public were given the chance to speak. What many in the community do not realize is they must show up 15 minutes prior to the start of the meeting, at minimum, to sign up to speak as City Clerk Jessica Zalenski removes the sheet at this time.
Jeanne Finstein, who sits on the Hall of Fame Board and Arts and Cultural Commission, spoke about a house donated to the Friends of Wheeling. The duplex dates to Antebellum, or pre-Civil War, and was owned by a man named Thomas Hughes who was on Wheeling City Council for 32 years and had ties to the committee who approved the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
Finstein was there to share pictures of the work and to urge the Council for their support in the project. She says demolishing the building would affect the streetscape of the neighborhood. Finstein added that the work Friend of Wheeling was doing could be an example for preserving the history of other distressed buildings in the city.
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