New Buildings Unwise

Editor, News-Register:

Moving on to a subject that I’ve written about in past letters. You’ve probably heard the saying “no use to beat a dead horse” or something to that effect. Well, that was the position I took after the city administration seemed to shelve the desire to build a mid-town parking garage.

Unfortunately, I was premature in thinking they saw the proposed garage as an unnecessary waste of money (which we can’t afford). A recent article in our newspaper quoted the city manager and others stating the proposed construction of the parking garage, as well as the public safety building, were still alive.

You and I know why they want to build the garage. It’s so they can entice an out-of-state developer to re-purpose the old Whg. Pitt. Bldg. into 126 apartments. Are you kidding me? Does anyone reading this letter truly believe that those rental units, if they ever get built, will have people standing in line to rent them? If you believe that, I’ve got some swampland in Louisiana I’d like to sell you.

Getting back to the parking garage. Wheeling owns a number of parking garages, none of which operate at capacity except on rare occasions. None of them receive adequate and necessary preventive maintenance on a yearly basis. Some of them are already deteriorated to the point that it will take millions of dollars to stop further deterioration, and I predict eventual closure due to structural issues. I recently reported that the city’s long term debt was somewhere around $150,000,000 (that’s one hundred and fifty million dollars), but a CPA contacted me and said it was closer to $190,000,000 (that’s one hundred and ninety million dollars). No matter what the actual figure is, the bottom line is we (the taxpayers and businesses in Wheeling) are taxed out.

If you don’t want to face the reality that we can’t afford a new garage or a new public safety building, then keep your head buried in the sand. The business community, and the citizens of Wheeling, will be paying off that debt for decades to come. Remember, there is no promise of any significant long-term increase in Wheeling’s population, no matter how much you wish it were so. I’d be willing to “bet the farm” that if, or when, the Whg. Pitt building is converted into apartments, they will be lucky to rent half of them out. Also, mark my words, the renovated building will turn into another subsidized housing project. So much for revitalizing the downtown area.

As far as the public safety building is concerned, a source told me that the city is considering purchasing, for $500,000 dollars, an old warehouse on 19th street to serve as a site for that project. I wonder if an appraisal was done to determine the actual value of the property? Probably not, why bother when you have the taxpayer footing the bill? It is my understanding they want to fund the proposed public safety building with a “user fee,” which boils down to everyone that works within the city limits having to pay a weekly fee of anywhere from $2 to $3. Here’s a partial list of those who will have to pay the fee: Firemen, policemen, school teachers, teachers’ aides, cooks, maintenance people, hospital workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, waitresses, bus drivers, store clerks, and so on. You get the picture. But what about those workers who come from outside of the city limits to work from time to time in our city? Does that mean out of town, and out of state plumbers, HVAC technicians, etc. employed for a specific occasional job will have to pay? Or are they exempt? What happens if they don’t pay, like some businesses I found when looking at the fire service fee? In some cases they’re shown as delinquent in paying the fee, but continue to obtain a city license and do business within the city.

Delinquent fire service fees go back years and the amount owed currently is $600,000-plus, with an unknown amount being written off. Now if the fire service fee, the vacant properties fee, and code enforcement in general, is any example of them (user fee) being fairly applied; then you can expect the same with the so called “user fee.”

Let’s consider the mechanics of administering and enforcing a user fee. Each and every business, from large employers such as a hospital, board of education, grocery store, universities, colleges, casino, home improvement stores, etc. and every small business such as your local pub, restaurant, towing company, auto repair shops, dry cleaners, gas station, etc. will have to provide the necessary accounting services to ensure the user fee is paid to the city by deducting it from their employees’ wages. Just how much money does the city estimate they will receive on a yearly basis to cover the cost for a “public safety” building? What happens if there is a shortfall? Will the city have to supplement out of the general fund or will they have to come up with an additional means of taxation? Will this drive more small businesses out of the city?

Just ask yourself this question: “Why has this become such a priority?” Are our mayor and council so fixated on building a shrine to their administration that they’re willing to overlook other less expensive alternatives? They say that total cost for the new public safety building will be $14 million. Acquiring the site, demolition, and hazardous material remediation will cost at least a million. Without geo-technical information (borings), a foundation system for a new building at that location could require costly ram aggregate piers or a similarly engineered support system.

Let’s make Wheeling a better place to live for everyone! A new public safety building will not enhance the quality of life in our community. What it will do is deter both large and small business from locating here, and perhaps make some that are here already relocate outside our city limits to dodge being saddled with new taxes on top of the existing B&O tax.

Hope Springs Eternal!

J. Jacobs

Wheeling

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