City Preps 911 Center Transfer

City Manager Robert Herron said he will formally ask Ohio County officials to assume control of the Wheeling-Ohio County 911 Communications Center, following City Council’s decision Tuesday to amend its budget to reflect a Jan. 1 transfer of authority.

Wheeling spent $684,000 to operate the 911 center last year but only received $500,000 from the county, prompting Herron to recommend transferring responsibility for the center as a cost-saving measure.

County commissioners haven’t yet agreed to assume responsibility for the center, but Herron said he’s had brief discussions with county Administrator Greg Stewart and he’s confident the two governmental agencies will reach an agreement, despite the fact they failed to do so when the issue came up about five years ago.

“We’ll sit down and kind of work out the details … and then it would come before council as an ordinance,” Herron said.

Mayor Andy McKenzie agrees the change is overdue, pointing out Wheeling’s 911 center is the only municipally operated emergency communication facility in West Virginia.

Theresa Russell, director of the 911 center, previously said she’s been told there would be no change in staffing as a result of the transfer, but commission President Tim McCormick said he couldn’t promise that. Another issue that needs to be looked at is health care costs – Wheeling only pays 80 percent of its employees’ insurance costs, while Ohio County pays 100 percent.

In other business, council unanimously approved a $75,000 contract with Reclaim LLC of Fairmont, W.Va., to demolish the former Wheeling Island police shooting range. Unused for nearly two decades and situated in a floodplain, the property needs extensive environmental cleanup due to the presence of lead from old bullets.

Councilman Don Atkinson also raised the issue of what he termed “sign gardens” that seem to be popping up in various parts of the city, including Elm Grove. He specifically referred to large quantities of signs advertising a late September “steam whistle expo” in Bellaire.

“It’s getting stupid. There are signs everywhere,” he said.

Elm Grove resident Bill O’Leary echoed Atkinson’s frustration during the meeting. In some places, O’Leary said, “there’s 10 and 12 signs in a row, and it’s really a distraction to motorists. … That’s littering the highway, in my opinion.”

O’Leary also noted he was happy to see a sheriff’s deputy assigned to provide security during the after-hours meeting, which lasted until about 6 p.m., which he hopes will continue.

In another matter, council voted unanimously to confirm McKenzie’s nomination of Michael Hooper to the Wheeling Housing Authority.