HRC Still Facing Deep Cuts

The Wheeling Human Rights Commission will receive enough funding to pay a part-time employee next fiscal year, but the group still faces a 79-percent budget cut and the loss of its full-time executive director on July 1 following a unanimous vote by City Council on Tuesday.

Council members passed the city’s Community Development Block Grant budget, which calls for the distribution of about $1.12 million in federal funding for capital projects and various public service agencies. The HRC, which received $66,000 in CDBG funding for the current year, would get $14,000 under the 2013-14 budget – up from the $7,000 City Manager Robert Herron initially proposed but far short of what would be needed to pay Executive Director Theresa Garrett’s annual $38,273 salary and more than $11,000 in benefits.

The part-time employee would work 16 hours a week at the City-County Building, answering phones and helping to direct discrimination complaints to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission for investigation. To provide the additional $7,000, Herron recommended decreasing proposed allocations of $30,000 for Wheeling Health Right and $10,000 for the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling to $28,000 and $5,000, respectively.

“We took into consideration the public comments that were made,” Herron said, noting the strong show of support for the HRC at recent council meetings and public hearings but maintaining his position that the local commission as currently constructed duplicates services offered at the state level.

Finch Avenue resident Geneva Barrax, who has addressed council on multiple occasions regarding HRC funding, told council following Tuesday’s vote that taking away the commission’s ability to investigate complaints locally amounts to “crippling the city of Wheeling and robbing its citizens of a sanctuary” from potential discrimination, and again asked council to restore full funding for the group.

Council made one other change to the CDBG budget due to a mathematical error. The plan lists $12,000 for renovation of exam rooms at the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department, but that sum was inadvertently left out when adding together all the individual line items in the overall $1.12 million budget, Herron said.

To correct the error, council members decreased the administration line item from $224,000 to $217,000 and funding for building demolition from $100,000 to $95,000.

In other business, council voted unanimously to award a $30.55 million contract for construction of a new water treatment plant in Warwood to Shook Construction of Dayton, Ohio. Council already has approved the issuance of bonds to fund the project, which will be repaid with proceeds from a 53.1-percent water rate increase expected to go into effect later this month or in early June.