Bricks are falling onto the sidewalk from the old Gene Long Community Center on Wheeling Island. In addition to being an eyesore and quite possibly a health hazard, it has become an immediate danger to passersby. But none of that matters to the bureaucrats in Washington.
For many years, Wheeling officials have used federal Community Development Block Grant funds to tear down dilapidated structures. But the CDBG program requires local leaders to jump through a variety of hoops before proceeding with demolition.
It can take six months or more to comply with all the federal requirements, city Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager explained recently.
Among steps that must be taken are gaining approval of the State Historic Preservation Office, establishing repairs would be more expensive than razing a building, and attempting to find someone interested in buying it.
In the past, Wheeling officials have viewed the CDBG program as a likely source of funds for clearing away problem structures. That is changing.
City Manager Robert Herron said this week plans are under way to demolish the old community center, along with two fire-damaged houses on 15th Street. Funding will come out of city funds, not through the CDBG program. That way, the work can proceed with dispatch - and at less cost.
That is a strategy the city should use in the future as much as possible. As Mayor Andy McKenzie put it after hearing Prager's list of federal requirements, "It almost seems crazy to use CDBG funds to tear down buildings."
That said, a limited amount of demolition money will be available from the city's general fund. Herron noted the three buildings being looked at now may be razed with funds from a "restricted capital improvement projects" account. Taxpayers will expect the bulk of funds set aside for capital improvements, including revenue from the new city sales tax, to be used for construction and repairs, not demolition.
City officials are right to be looking at ways to spend taxpayers' money more frugally to demolish real problem structures, however. In the meantime, they should ask West Virginia's congressional delegation to eliminate some of the absurd restrictions in the CDBG program.