Human Rights Commission Wants $27K Boost to Budget

Despite an 18-percent cut to its budget last year, as well as indications City Council may consider cutting off its funding entirely, the Wheeling Human Rights Commission plans to ask for a $27,000 increase to its budget next fiscal year.

The additional funds would allow the commission to hire a part-time office assistant. Since July, when the commission was forced to dismiss its longtime assistant due to a lack of funds, Executive Director Theresa Garrett has been the commission’s only paid employee.

Commissioners voted to submit two separate requests for $92,942 – one seeking money from the city’s general fund budget, and another asking the funds from the city’s annual share of Community Development Block Grant. The commission has been funded solely through the CDBG program for quite some time, but in its early years it received support from the general fund.

However, that funding source was called into question after Mayor Andy McKenzie notified council of correspondence he received from Wheeling Health Right asking that City Council restore CDBG funding to it and other public service agencies that were cut off last year due to decline in the city’s overall entitlement. A majority of council members said they would strongly consider that request, and the commission since has established an ad hoc committee charged with seeking alternative funding sources, but with little success.

The budget request includes $69,450 for personnel – including $38,273 for Garrett’s salary, $11,000 for the part-time assistant and the remainder for Garrett’s benefits. The rest, $23,492, would be for other costs such as office rent, supplies, postage and travel expenses for commissioners to attend conferences and training events.

Garrett told commissioners that if they wanted to hire a full-time office assistant, the budget request would rise to $118,814. They agreed to seek funds for a part-time employee only from council.

“Wishing and hoping that they’re going to double (our current budget), I don’t think it’s going to happen. … I think to get back to where we were would be a major accomplishment,” said Commissioner Chuck Hood.

Garrett said she received a formal complaint last week, has two pending complaints that need to be filed and recently received an inquiry that likely will lead to a formal complaint. She said not having someone to answer the phone and perform other secretarial work is causing her work to pile up.

Commissioner the Rev. Robert Romick suggested seeking volunteers to do office work. But Commission Chairwoman Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner said it’s difficult to find volunteers who are available consistently.

“If we are going to function in a proper manner, we are going to need a paid person in this office on a full-time basis,” Jacowitz Chottiner said.

Garrett said she would welcome letters of support from the community to include along with the budget request. Hood noted the city has scheduled a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at which residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on how this year’s CDBG funds should be distributed.

“If the general public supports the Human Rights Commission and what we do, I would suggest they go there and relay that support to the mayor, city manager and members of council,” Hood said.