Wheeling city council meets; finance committee debates $100,000 funding request for LifeHub
"This is the most scrutinized $100,000 we’ve ever spent," Palmer said after intense questioning by the council regarding the LifeHub proposal. Over $3,000,000 in new funding approved without debate
Wheeling’s city council and finance committee met today, Tuesday, November 21, for a back-to-basics style meeting, contrasting two consecutive raucous sessions as the body considered, and ultimately approved, a ban on urban camping.
Wheeling Finance Committee
The finance committee discussed funding for the LifeHub and a child care center in North Wheeling, both requesting $100,000 in ARPA funding. While the dollar amount was the same, their treatment by members of the committee were wholly unique.
Bishop Darrell Cummings of the Bethlehem Apostolic Temple spoke first, seeking funding for a child care center at the North Wheeling Dream Center, purchased by the Temple several years ago.
Cummings detailed nearly $300,000 spent on the building to date, including repairs related to a burst sprinkler system.
The site has been inspected by state officials who, Cummings says, have expressed their approval for the site to become a child care center.
Cummings used a lack of child care centers in North Wheeling, and a statewide backlog in requests for child care, to advocate for the funding of the project. He noted the size of the building, 30,000 sq ft, as well as an existing playground and adequate parking.
Chair of the finance committee Dave Palmer, Ward 6, expressed concern that if funded the project may not move forward. Cummings responded, citing the record of the Temple stating the religious organization has never faltered on previous obligations.
“Our record should speak for itself,” Cummings said.
Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, who sits on the committee, agreed with Cummings saying that his church has “consistently done good for the community.”
The proposed child care center may accept 25 to 30 students. No budget for how the funds would be spent were detailed publicly.
The request was forward to council for their consideration.
Melissa Adams, Wheeling homeless liaison, spoke next about a funding request for the LifeHub.
As a reminder, the LifeHub is a proposed year-round low-barrier shelter that would also coordinate with other service providers, offer life skills training, and help people experiencing homelessness achieve housing and maintain it.
The LifeHub will also operate the Winter Freeze shelter, scheduled to open on December 15.
Adams detailed the $100,000 request: $25k for architectural renderings, $21k for the Winter Freeze Shelter, $20k for grant writing, $10k for consulting fees, $12k for marketing and outreach, and $2k for technology.
Vice Mayor Thalman said he “struggles to understand the issue or the best path forward,” as it relates to homelessness, despite emphatically voting for the urban camping ban last meeting.
Thalman seemed confused about the mission of the LifeHub, conflating it with the proposed managed camp discussed at the last meeting. Adams reiterated that the two were separate issues. She continued, saying the project was two to three years from completion, and the Winter Freeze shelter would only operate for four months.
The urban camping ban will take effect January 1st. No definitive site for a managed camp has been chosen.
Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, asked Adams to make available to him a list of organizations who have guaranteed they would fund the project if the city supported it. This request was unique to the LifeHub and has not been made in the past, to this reporter’s knowledge.
Sklavounakis said he worried the LifeHub would offer duplicative services, despite Adams and other service providers making clear it would not.
Adams said the LifeHub is already in operation, helping families and individuals access services, housing, transportation, etc, in response to the councilor’s concerns over duplicative services.
At the conclusion of the nearly twenty minutes of questioning, Palmer remarked that this was “the most scrutinized $100,000 we’ve ever spent.” In the time that this reporter has covered Wheeling city council, it most certainly is.
The funding request was previously forwarded to council last meeting, and will be voted on at the next scheduled meeting.
Wheeling City Council
The Wheeling city council meeting took place after the finance committee, lasting less than thirty minutes. Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, was absent.
In all, the council approved nearly $3,000,000 in new spending with few questions and no debate, a stark contrast to the proposal of $100,000 for the LifeHub.
Of the new spending approved by the council, $321,625 of ARPA funding went to improve the area’s baseball fields, $384,764 for an ambulance, and $256,305 for a dump truck.
The council also approved three new ordinances, including the selection of United Bank of West Virginia to receive opioid settlement money owed to the city, and a new program called “Food-For-Fines” which allows citizens who are ticketed during the month of December to donate food, cleaning supplies, or personal hygiene products in lieu of a monetary fine.
The big ticket item of the night was a $1.7 million ordinance for the demolition of the Centre Marking Parking structure, to occur in March.
This demolition will happen piece by piece, as the structure is flanked on both sides by buildings including the Towngate Theatre, the Center Wheeling Fellowship church, and the new Wheeling PD Headquarters.
The project is set to begin in March, in tandem with the demolition of the OVMC West tower and walking-bridge. Chapline Street will be closed during the demolition, and businesses will be notified beforehand.
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