Restructuring In Wheeling

It is time for a dramatic restructuring of Wheeling city government departments and services. So it may be a good thing that local officials were overly optimistic in their estimate of how much a new sales tax will help the bottom line.

When City Council members last year approved charging a 0.5-percent sales tax on some goods and services sold in Wheeling, they coupled it with a plan to invest in infrastructure improvements and to reduce business and occupation taxes. But as we have reported, the sales tax is generating substantially less revenue than had been expected.

In part that is because plans for the tax had to be approved in something of a hurry last year, to ensure it could be implemented under a section of state law that was about to be changed. City Manager Robert Herron has said more accurate revenue projections can be made after the tax is in effect for a few more months.

Now Mayor Andy McKenzie and Herron want to delay – not rescind, just postpone – B&O tax relief that was to have been provided through the sales tax package. Meanwhile, they want to accelerate the “right-sizing” plan McKenzie has advocated for years.

That probably will mean reducing the city’s payroll, not through layoffs but by not filling vacancies in some departments.

The need for a thorough review of personnel requirements is obvious. McKenzie provided one example of where better efficiency is possible, in the police department. There are more officers of advanced rank than there are patrolmen and women. Thirty-nine officers are corporals and above, while just 36 are of patrolman rank.

McKenzie and Herron are seeking council’s support for changes the city manager will recommend after studying municipal services and the payroll closely. As Herron warned council members this week, “I can provide you with recommendations and it will be dramatic. You’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Again, it is time for something dramatic. The basic structure of how the city provides services – and what services it provides – has been unchanged for decades.

There is no denying a mistake was made in the sales tax program. Not enough money is being received for council to keep promises of infrastructure improvements and B&O tax relief. That may change in the future.

But for now, the McKenzie-Herron plan should save the city enough money to go ahead with both improvements and eventually B&O tax relief – if council members have the political will to implement the manager’s recommendations.