Market Plaza, Water Plant Projects on the Horizon

Wheeling officials won’t open bids for a brand new water treatment plant until Friday, but today City Council will hear first reading of legislation calling for the sale of bonds to finance the project.

Council members also will vote on the city’s proposed $30.64 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year and take a step toward completing the Market Plaza renovation project that city leaders announced more than four years ago when they meet at 5:30 p.m. today in council chambers on the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.

Issuing the bonds, to be repaid through income from a 53.1-percent water rate increase, will allow the city to demolish its 90-year-old water treatment plant in Warwood and build a new one in its place.

“We anticipate issuing about $41 million in bonds, which will include the general contract, membrane contract, a bond reserve fund, capitalized interest and issuance costs,” said Herron.

The proposed legislation would allow for the sale of up to $49.5 million in bonds to fund the new facility, but City Manager Robert Herron said that “not to exceed” amount was inflated on the advice of the city’s bond counsel to provide some leeway because bids won’t be opened until Friday. He said the process needs to begin now because state law gives cities only 90 days from the bid opening to sell all the bonds, and any bond issuance requires three readings before council.

City Council initially had approved a water rate increase of 70 percent to fund the project, but the West Virginia Public Service Commission last year lowered that figure after considering formal protests from some of the city’s water resale customers, including the Ohio County Public Service District, the town of Triadelphia and village of Valley Grove. At the same time, the PSC ruled the city could implement the rate increase as soon as bonds are issued, rather than after completion of the project – which should allow the city to maintain the state-required level of debt service coverage under the lower rates.

That means new rates could go into effect as soon as next month, as council is likely to vote on the ordinance after a third and final reading on April 16. The new rates will increase the average monthly water bill for residents from $19.44 to $29.76.

An ordinance to spend up to $39,950 for Hays Landscape Architecture to complete design work for upgrades to downtown’s Market Plaza also is up for first reading, which likely will be followed by a vote on the measure April 2.

City leaders originally announced their intentions to renovate the plaza, which occupies the west side of Market Street between 10th and 11th streets, in January 2009. The city has $500,000 in Tax Increment Financing money available to complete the project, Herron said.

Planned upgrades include repairs to the sidewalks and brick work on the plaza, and the replacement of some of the brick-paved area with lawn space.

Once a hub of commerce for downtown, the plaza remains home to the Stone Center and a few other businesses.

A 2006 fire severely damaged two buildings on the plaza, which stood in that condition until 2009 as the city worked through legal issues in having them demolished. The former Nick’s Music building also collapsed in March of that year.

If council approves the design work, Herron said actual renovation of the plaza should begin this summer.