Taxpayers Will Be Keeping Score

Wheeling City Council already has begun a process that is expected to result in $1.4 million a year in additional revenue to improve WesBanco Arena and handle infrastructure needs. Though there have been only a few complaints about the plan, that will not last unless taxpayers feel the money is being put not just to good use, but to the best use possible.

Local businesses will get a break on business and occupation taxes. At the same time, a new one-half percent sales tax will be charged on purchases of many goods and services in the city.

Mayor Andy McKenzie has explained the net gain in revenue will be used for two purposes: About half the $1.4 million a year will go for improvements to the arena, while the remainder will be used for various infrastructure projects. Sidewalks, streets, bridges and the storm sewer system are among potential infrastructure uses cited by the mayor.

At the same time, McKenzie has said he hopes the additional revenue can be used for economic development in downtown Wheeling.

That sounds good – but will the additional sales tax still be appealing in, say, a year or, down the road, five years?

Little specificity has been provided in plans for the $700,000 or so in infrastructure funding to be provided by the tax. However, there is some expectation the money will be targeted to downtown Wheeling to improve economic development.

If specific infrastructure spending is being considered, the public should be told what it is.

During the coming months and years, local taxpayers will, in effect, be keeping a scorecard. On one side will be higher taxes. On the other will be benefits from that sacrifice.

Frittering the money away – a sidewalk here, a street paved there – may not be deemed the most effective use. Likewise, using it for projects already undertaken, such as the East Wheeling sports field, will not be viewed as moving forward.

As matters stand, city officials are asking for approval of a gigantic blank check – never a good idea when government is involved.

Again, however, taxpayers will be keeping score. At the end of a year of higher taxes, they will expect to see progress in downtown Wheeling. As they prepare to hand themselves a huge pile of cash, city officials also should be focusing on results, not just bigger, more expensive municipal government.