Be Partners In ‘Right-Sizing’

Wheeling City Council members have taken one step in what amounts to re-prioritizing municipal government finances. Though the next step will be far more difficult, they should take it, too.

As we have reported, proceeds from a new half-percent sales tax in the city have not lived up to expectations. Officials had planned to use the money for infrastructure improvements, upgrades at WesBanco Arena and cuts in business and occupation tax rates.

Because of the gap between sales tax projections and actual income, council members voted Tuesday to delay a B&O tax break for retail businesses. They are expected to vote at a later date to postpone B&O tax relief for manufacturers.

Both of those measures will be reconsidered – and, officials hope, implemented – this summer. In the meantime, City Manager Robert Herron will prepare recommendations for precisely what types and levels of B&O tax breaks should be provided.

Herron will be preparing another report for council, however. It will deal with ways to reduce municipal spending.

Part of the idea is to provide enough money through spending cuts to implement B&O tax relief. But savings could be used for other purposes. For example, police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger has said he loses good, experienced officers because other law enforcement agencies offer better pay. Some savings could be used for pay enhancements.

Herron’s task is part of Mayor Andy McKenzie’s “right-sizing” strategy for city government. Declining population in Wheeling calls for changes – and yes, reductions – in municipal employment and, perhaps, what services are offered and how they are provided.

Again, that will require officials to alter some of their priorities for city government. Council members, in going along with Herron and McKenzie thus far, have indicated they are willing to consider that.

The next step will be much more difficult. It will involve listening to Herron’s recommendations and deciding whether to approve them. Though it is unlikely he will recommend laying off employees, he may suggest reductions in force through attrition. He also may urge council to make basic changes in services.

It will be difficult for some council members to go along with such changes. In effect, they mean making government smaller.

But council members’ primary responsibility is to Wheeling residents and businesses. So, when the time comes, they should work with Herron and McKenzie as “right-sizing” partners – not adversaries.