City Budget To Increase $750K

It appears most Wheeling departments will have to be satisfied with the status quo when the new fiscal year begins in July, based on the $30.64 million budget proposal City Manager Robert Herron presented to City Council Tuesday.

Although Herron’s proposal represents about a $750,000, or approximately 2.5-percent, increase over the $29.89 million budget council approved last year, much of the additional spending is due to increases in employee health insurance costs, as well as the city’s annual contribution to its police and fire pension funds. Revenues have exceeded expectations thus far this fiscal year, however – particularly business and occupation tax and hotel occupancy tax collections – so the city should be able to absorb those increased expenses without significant cuts to departmental budgets.

But the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, however, is likely to see significant changes as Herron recommended council members reduce that body’s budget – which is funded entirely through federal Community Block Grant money, rather than general fund money – from about $66,000 this year to just $7,000. If council approves the CDBG budget as presented, commission Executive Director Theresa Garrett will no longer have a job come July 1.

That, Herron said, will free up money to divide among several other nonprofit agencies, including Wheeling Health Right, the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless and the Seeing Hand Association.

Wheeling has seen its CDBG entitlement drop by almost $463,000 over the past two years to about $1.12 million, and Herron said he expects another 8-percent reduction this year. Only 15 percent of a city’s allocation can be used for public services, per U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations.

Regarding general fund expenses, Herron told council members it will cost an additional $218,550 to maintain current health care benefits for full-time employees, an increase of about 8.6 percent. The city will continue to pay 80 percent of workers’ premiums, he said.

And the state-mandated 7-percent annual increase in the city’s contribution to its police and fire pension funds to help pay down an estimated $52.6 million combined unfunded liability in the plans will cost taxpayers an additional $235,000 compared to the current budget. The total $3.59 million projected contribution to the funds represents almost 12 percent of the city’s overall budget.

Most departments would see modest increases or reductions to their operational expenses under the budget proposal.

“I have not proposed any employee pay raises at this point,” said Herron, noting that could be revisited if the city has a surplus at fiscal year’s end. City workers last received a pay raise of 2 percent in July.

A work session is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday to continue discussion of the proposed budget, and Herron said a second session would be held at 4 p.m. March 12, if necessary. Council is expected to adopt the finished budget document during its 5:30 p.m. March 19 meeting.