Justifying Safety Building Proposal

Does Wheeling really need a new $15 million public safety building? That is not a rhetorical question. It is one to which city voters will be insisting on a satisfactory answer.

It was revealed last week that city officials hope to construct such a facility downtown. City police and firefighters would be its primary occupants.

Funding for the project, possibly through a bond issue, would have to be approved by city voters. Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said the referendum probably would be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

“We feel this is a way to assure Wheeling remains safe for many years to come,” Thalman said, adding, “This is a way to put a brand new building in downtown Wheeling that shows we value public safety.”

Fifteen million dollars in debt that will have to be repaid by taxpayers is a lot of money to show simply that we value police, fire and emergency medical services. Voters will demand more than that — especially in view of the fact that in May, they will be asked to approve a $42 million bond issue for Ohio County schools.

Do we need a new public safety building? Are there other, cheaper options? Could the cost for a new facility be trimmed down? How would it affect fire department response times? What ongoing burden for maintenance, insurance, etc., would it establish? Or would it save money by, perhaps, reducing utility bills? Would it be wiser to use revenue from higher taxes to hire more police and firefighters than to construct a new building?

What other major expenditures are on the minds of city officials — and how is it proposed to pay for them? And, last but certainly not least, voters who remember being told just a few years ago that a city sales tax ought to cover many infrastructure needs are going to want to hear very good reasons why they are being asked for more money.

These and many other questions will be on the minds of Wheeling voters. On the ability of city officials to provide acceptable answers rests the fate of the proposed safety building.