With the federal government reducing grants to towns and cities, Wheeling officials have no choice but to re-examine their priorities for funding quasi-government and independent organizations. That has led them to a plan to virtually eliminate the Wheeling Human Rights Commission.
In the past, the HRC has been among agencies supported through the city's allocation of federal Community Development Block Grant money. But Wheeling is getting less CDBG funding than in the past. More cuts are on the way.
Earlier this year it was proposed the city reduce support for the HRC, currently at $66,000 per year. The plan is to cut that to $7,000. That would leave the agency without enough money to pay its executive director, the only paid staff member. In effect, the HRC would be limited to whatever work its volunteer board of directors can handle - primarily outreach and education rather than investigation of alleged human rights violations.
That task would be turned over to the state Human Rights Commission. Advocates of the city agency say the state body is slow to take action on complaints.
Again, however, this is a matter of setting priorities. Maintaining current funding levels for the HRC would leave Wheeling City Council with no choice but to slash support for other organizations, such as Wheeling Health Right, the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, the local Homeless Coalition and the Seeing Hand Association. Each of them provides critical assistance to people who need health care, food, shelter and help dealing with sight limitations.
In other words, city council's options are extremely limited.
Debate over the proposed cut in HRC support has proceeded for many weeks. Today, however, council must act to allocate CDBG funding for the coming year.
Council members should go ahead with the plan to slash HRC funding, while continuing to support organizations that provide more essential services to local residents.