WHEELING - With the passage last week of Wheeling's budget for the upcoming fiscal year - which contained no funding for the Human Rights Commission - a last-minute change in plans appears to be the only way for the group to avoid an 89-percent funding cut on July 1.
Subject to final approval by City Council in May, City Manager Robert Herron's proposal for distributing the city's annual allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant funds would give the organization just $7,000 to operate during the 2013-14 year, down from almost $66,000 this year. Much of those funds would instead be distributed among several nonprofit agencies.
Residents can let council members know how they believe the city's CDBG allocation should be distributed by attending a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. April 16.
With only $7,000 to spend, the HRC would have to let go its only paid employee, longtime Executive Director Theresa Garrett, whose salary and benefits account for about 80 percent of the group's budget this year. City leaders have said the commission's volunteer board won't be dissolved, but its role as an enforcer of the city's laws against discrimination would be passed on to the state Human Rights Commission.
Wheeling's Human Rights Commission has been funded exclusively with CDBG money for about 20 years.
After learning of the proposed budget cut, commission members urged council to consider providing money from the general fund, to no avail.
Several residents spoke in favor of funding for the HRC during council's March 6 meeting, and two more - Geneva Barrox and Frank Calabrese - expressed their support during last Tuesday's meeting.
"The Human Rights Commission is for those without redress. ... It's about those without a place to go," Calabrese said.
Because Wheeling has yet to learn its exact entitlement amount, the proposed CDBG budget assumes the city will receive the same amount it did last year, about $1.12 million. However, Herron said it's likely the city will see an 8-percent reduction in its allocation to about $1.03 million.
Under the current plan, $139,276 - or about 12.4 percent - would be allocated for public service agencies.
According to federal regulations, a city may spend up to 15 percent of its total entitlement for public services.
With $7,000 going to the Human Rights Commission, the rest would be distributed as follows: $50,026 to the police department for directed patrols in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island; $33,000 for the city-owned Nelson Jordan Center; $30,000 for Wheeling Health Right; $10,000 for the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling; $5,000 for the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition and $4,250 for the Seeing Hand Association.
The remaining $982,800 would go toward program administration, economic development and capital projects in low- to moderate-income areas, including $400,000 for replacement of the former Elks Playground in East Wheeling; $224,000 for program administration, including $100,000 for the city's comprehensive plan; $188,000 toward repaying a Section 108 loan from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development that was used to bring Lowe's to South Wheeling; $100,000 for building demolition, $70,800 for street paving and sidewalk repair; and $12,000 for renovations to the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department offices in the City-County Building.
Council is expected to vote on the CDBG budget during its May 7 meeting.