Friendly City’s Cash Carryover Crumbles

Despite pulling in a record $30.7 million in revenue over the last 12 months, Wheeling began the new budget cycle with about $750,000 less than it did a year ago.

The city began the new fiscal year July 1 with a cash balance of about $255,000 – down from about $1.01 million when the 2012-13 fiscal year began, City Manager Robert Herron said Tuesday during a Finance Committee meeting. Those figures demonstrate the rising cost of government, including fuel, employee health insurance and ensuring the city’s pension funds remain solvent.

“We knew we weren’t going to have the cash carryover we’ve had in the past,” Herron said.

Still, he isn’t ruling out the possibility of recommending a 2-percent pay raise for all city employees that would go into effect Sept. 1. That would eat up about $211,000 of the carryover, but Herron said revenue generated by Wheeling’s 0.5-percent sales tax – set to go into effect Oct. 1 – will allow the city to spend at least as much on infrastructure improvements and equipment as it did during the previous fiscal year.

Although retailers will begin charging the tax in October, the city won’t receive its first revenue check from the West Virginia Tax Department until January. Based on six months of collections, Herron expects the city to receive $1.1 million from the sales tax, offset by a $264,000 loss in Business and Occupation Tax revenue as a result of corresponding reductions to that tax City Council approved earlier this year.

The net $850,000 increase in revenue would go for a variety of projects – $426,000 toward planned upgrades to WesBanco Arena, $200,000 for street paving, $118,000 to the Restricted Capital Improvement Fund, $75,000 to repair a slip on Mount Wood Road and $25,626 on defibrillators for the fire department. Council spent about $620,000 of last year’s $1.01 million cash carryover on capital projects.

Wheeling is set to contribute about $3.6 million to its police and fire pension funds this year through the general fund – about $235,000 more than last year, reflecting the state law requiring cities with underfunded retirement plans to increase their annual contributions by 7 percent. That increased expense is prompting Herron to recommend council cap the supplemental contribution it makes to those funds using table gambling revenue at $200,000 each.

At 40 percent and 30 percent funding respectively, Wheeling’s police and fire pension plans are in much better shape than those in many cities around the state. Those numbers are up dramatically from 2000, when the police plan was just 7 percent funded and the fire pension program just 10 percent.

That progress is largely a result of those supplemental contributions, but Herron believes any of that revenue beyond the $200,000 proposed cap is now needed to soften the impact of the required 7-percent increase on the general fund.

During its regular meeting following Tuesday’s Finance Committee session, council approved the following items, all by unanimous vote unless otherwise noted:

– A non-binding resolution indicating council’s willingness to consider issuing up to $5 million in revenue bonds on behalf of Arbors of Windsor Manor LLC, a Cleveland developer seeking to purchase and renovate the downtown Windsor Manor Apartment Complex;

– Rezoning property at 3604-3608 Wood St. from high-density residential to general industrial;

– Spending $897,100 with Berry, Bippus, Chison & Foose Inc. of Wheeling for 2013-14 liability insurance;

– Paying CT Consultants of $276,190 for work on previous upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant;

– Spending $157,936 in federal Community Development Block Grant money for repayment of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 108 loan;

– Spending $70,319 with Wells Fargo Insurance for workers’ compensation insurance, with Mayor Andy McKenzie abstaining;

– Spending $17,500 to support the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual City of Lights Festival;

– Accepting a total of $40,000 in state grants for Wheeling’s statehood sesquicentennial celebration; and

– Extending an agreement with Ohio County Schools for use of Garden Park in Warwood, with Councilman David Miller abstaining.