Wheeling to Decide Fate of HRC

WHEELING – Following much debate over the Wheeling Human Rights Commission’s role, City Council will settle the matter Tuesday by deciding how to distribute $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money.

If all goes as expected during council’s noon Tuesday meeting on the first floor of the City-County Building, the commssion’s budget will be slashed by about 89 percent beginning July 1. That means the commission would lose its only paid staff member, Executive Director Theresa Garrett. With only $7,000 to spend, the commission would basically be reduced to a community outreach organization, downgraded from its current role of investigating complaints of discrimination based on age, race, gender or handicap.

Most of the $59,000 that would be taken from the Human Rights Commission’s current $66,000 budget would be distributed to several nonprofit agencies upon the recommendation of City Manager Robert Herron, who has said the local HRC duplicates services available at the state level. But the West Virginia Human Rights Commission is facing funding and staffing issues of its own and can take up to three months just to decide whether it will accept a case, members of the local commission members point out.

The proposal’s biggest beneficiary would be Wheeling Health Right, which is set to receive $30,000 in CDBG funding. The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling would receive $10,000; the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition, $5,000; and the Seeing Hand Association, $4,250.

The total CDBG budget of $1.12 million includes $400,000 to rebuild the Elks Playground in East Wheeling; $224,000 for administration, including $100,000 to develop a new comprehensive plan for the city by the end of next year; $188,000 to repay a Section 108 loan used to help bring Lowe’s to Wheeling; $100,000 for building demolition; $70,800 for building and sidewalk repair; about $50,000 for directed police patrols in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island; $33,000 for the Nelson Jordan Center; and $12,000 to renovate the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department’s exam rooms.

Those figures may have to be adjusted when city officials learn their final entitlement amount for 2013-14, which may decline by about 5-8 percent from the 2012-13 figure upon which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is instructing cities to base their plan for the upcoming year.

In other business, council is expected to award a $30.55 million contract to Shook Construction to build the city’s new water treatment plant and demolish the current 90-year-old facility in Warwood. The Dayton, Ohio, firm was the low bidder among seven companies that sought the opportunity to build the new plant, which will be situated near the site of the old one. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin this summer and should take at least two years.