Herron Gives Lions Update

Officials still need to raise about $500,000 to build a community sports field in East Wheeling, City Manager Robert Herron told Wheeling Lions Club members Wednesday.

“The project is designed and ready for bid,” Herron said, noting the city continues to seek grants and contributions to bring the estimated $3 million project – including new basketball courts, playground equipment and a multi-sport artificial turf field – to fruition.

Mayor Andy McKenzie has said his goal is to fund the project entirely through private donations. A $750,000 gift from the J.B. Chambers Foundation remains the only publicly announced donation, though McKenzie previously said the city has received “several very generous large contributions” toward the project.

During his talk, Herron also provided updates on a new water treatment plant in Warwood and upcoming renovations to Market Plaza.

He said the city is preparing to spend about $500,000 on landscaping and brick work repair on the plaza.

He noted this is particularly important as Wheeling Jesuit University moves forward with plans to relocate its physical therapy doctoral program and open a free clinic at the Stone Center on the plaza later this year.

He also touched on the continuation of the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program and McKenzie’s proposal to eliminate the city’s Business and Occupation tax on manufacturing and reduce it on retail businesses while implementing a half-percent sales tax.

If City Council and the state Municipal Home Rule Board approve the changes, officials expect a net increase of $1.4 million in annual revenue that will pay for infrastructure improvements and upgrades to WesBanco Arena, possibly including new convention space at or near the arena.

Also related to home rule, Herron said four years after council enacted a vacant building registration program and began charging a fee to owners who let buildings sit empty longer than a year, 235 structures are listed and the city continues to be aggressive in collecting fees.

He noted 28 buildings have been demolished and 42 have been refurbished since the ordinance took effect in October 2009.

Herron also addressed the impact of city voters’ decision to repeal a 40-year-old law that had required two police officers inside each patrol cruiser.

Based on three months of data gathered since new patrol protocols began in January, he said crimes classified as “Group A” under the FBI’s national reporting system – serious infractions such as theft, sex offenses and other violent crime – are down 27 percent compared to the same period last year.

Officers also are writing more traffic citations, he noted, and making more arrests for DUI, public intoxication and disorderly conduct.