Wheeling City Council 4th Ward candidates agree the city needs to ramp up its marketing efforts to attract new businesses and population.
Among those seeking the council seat on May 8 are Keith Bell, Randy Berisford, Mark Garrett, Marjorie Klemm and David C. Miller.
- Bell, a criminal justice professor at West Liberty University, said his primary job if elected will be to fight for the interests of Ward 4 while keeping the broader interests of the city in mind. He believes the city's primary need is "reviving downtown."
Bell said the city's tax structure, which allows new downtown businesses to forego paying Business and Occupation Taxes for three years, sets small businesses up to fail. Instead, he would like to see the city concentrate on attracting large corporations downtown, which would lead to increased traffic that can support small businesses.
He also believes the 70-80 percent rate increase residents are facing to fund a water system overhaul could have been avoided if officials had dealt with the problem decades ago. He knows it's too late to change that, but said the city should look at federal grants to help ease the burden on customers. That is an area where he said he has experience.
Bell said great strides have been made in the fight against crime and the city can't afford to let up.
This is Bell's second run for municipal office, as he made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on McMechen City Council in 1998 at age 20.
- Garrett, a retired Wheeling police officer who also operates a small security alarm business, lists the three top concerns for the city as: recruiting and retaining business; lack of decent housing and real estate; and outdated infrastructure.
"The city needs to think outside the box when attracting new businesses to the area and keeping current businesses here. The recent partnering of (Regional Economic Development Partnership) and (Wheeling Area Hockey Association) to retain the Nailers in Wheeling is a great example," he said.
Garrett believes the housing issue can be alleviated by enforcing current building codes and partnering with nontraditional entities like Chesapeake Energy to demolish properties and rebuild decent, affordable housing or new business developments.
He also said the city needs to aggressively pursue businesses and industries it could realistically accommodate and create a marketing campaign to attract businesses and industries.
Garrett sees the role of a council member as providing leadership for the city, including passing ordinances approving a balanced budget and overseeing the city manager.
"I have walked the majority of Ward 4, and the biggest issue facing the residents is paving the streets," Garrett added.
- Klemm, a tax adviser for H&R Block and owner of MAK Accounting Services of Wheeling, believes marketing is the key to revitalize Wheeling. If elected she would work to bring employment and population back to Wheeling with better marketing to employers and out-of-town workers.
She said the city needs to do better with highlighting its "good education system" and job opportunities.
"We need to market Wheeling as a great place to live," she said.
She touched on the need to examine the B&O tax to find the best balance between city revenue and appealing to new businesses.
She added neglected properties in the city need to be addressed, whether a structure needs to be torn down or rehabilitated.
Specific to her ward, she said the biggest problem is flooding in Wheeling Creek. She said she would like to explore grant opportunities to update water and wastewater systems. She would also like to examine how to update roads to accommodate today's vehicle sizes, but would scrutinize them on a "road-by-road" basis.
- Miller, a senior marketing manager for iron and steel products at Mitsui USA, seeks to bring marketing and community involvement experience to the public sector.
"I've had so many opportunities to leave this place, but I love it here," he said.
He said the number one issue for the city is capitalizing on opportunities in Marcellus Shale drilling. The workers passing through and staying in the city, he said, present a promotion opportunity for the business climate, education, affordable housing and safe areas.
Another big issue for Miller is the ongoing downtown redevelopment. He said demolishing the structures in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets is a move in the right direction and will provide an "arena" for attracting new businesses. He noted he could provide his marketing experience to drive the overall comprehensive plan. He said his experience visiting other cities on business would help him make more educated decisions for redevelopment.
In his ward, he said police and residents need to continue to focus on safety, preserve single-family residences for their market demand, observe gas industry trucks on W.Va. 88 for road damage and promote further development with entities such as Wheeling Hospital and Wheeling Jesuit University.
- Berisford did not respond to requests for comment for this article.