Wage Hike to Have ‘Significant Impact’

WHEELING – Three separate platoons of Wheeling firefighters rotate an average of 56-hour work weeks. That’s 16 hours more than the average 40-hour per week city employee.

A new law – House Bill 428 – enacted by the West Virginia Legislature will raise the state’s minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.75 over two years. It also requires all employers in the state with six or more workers to comply with new overtime requirements, including typically exempt employees such as municipal firefighters, commissioned sales employees and those who make $100,000 or more per year.

During Wheeling City Council’s noon meeting Tuesday, Mayor Andy McKenzie said if Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did not veto the bill, it would adversely affect city coffers. Tomblin signed the bill Tuesday evening.

“As is, the bill has not been properly written. It does not exempt the firefighters. That would affect our budget by about $300,000 a year,” McKenzie said. “This would have a significant impact, and frankly I don’t know what we would do.”

In other business, City Manager Robert Herron said the city was notified that its Community Development Block Grant allocation for 2014-15 is $109,584 less than the current year’s funding.

As a result, Herron said allocations to outside city agencies will be impacted, as well as several city projects.

He said city paving projects will be reduced, police programs will not receive as much funding as planned and social service agencies’ funding will face cuts.

A public hearing on the CDBG budget will be held at the next council meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. April 15 in council chambers.

In other budget matters, McKenzie questioned why the city’s Human Rights Commission is projected to have a significant cash carryover in its budget on July 1.

“I’m a little perplexed that they have money left over,” McKenzie said.

Herron said the HRC is allocated $14,000 a year, most of which is expected to be spent on community programs now that the commission is staffed on a volunteer basis.

To date, the commission has only spent $5,300. Herron said the commission’s budget for programming is higher now that money is not being paid toward salaries.

“They got off to a slow start,” Herron said, adding the commissioners are still working on plans to spend the money on community programs.

Also Tuesday, city resident Charlie Ballouz urged council to work with the two remaining businesses in the otherwise empty 1100 block of Market Street and offer them space in other vacant storefronts, such as Quizno’s which has closed its doors across the street from Vocelli’s Pizza and Panda Chinese Restaurant.

Elm Grove resident Bill O’Leary suggested council bring back an old city promotional slogan: “You Belong in Wheeling!” He handed out photos of an awning on the former Wharf Parking Garage that displayed the slogan during a river flood.

“See, we even told people they belong in Wheeling during a flood,” O’Leary said.

Council’s Development Committee met prior to the full council session.

The committee went behind closed doors for 28 minutes to discuss property acquisition. McKenzie said no action was taken.