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Wheeling Finances Show a Solid Start To Fiscal Year

WHEELING – Financial reports show the city of Wheeling is off to a rock-solid start through the first quarter of a new fiscal year, despite — or perhaps in an indirect way, because of — the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the Finance Committee of Wheeling City Council met recently to discuss figures from the recently completed financial report for September, which wraps up the first quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal year that began in July.

According to City Manager Robert Herron, the city overall is in good financial shape. Although some revenue line items are down as expected due to coronavirus-related effects on businesses and commerce, the big picture shows the city doing very well in terms of both revenues and expenditures.

Putting the city on an even more solid financial foundation is funding received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Each month since the pandemic began in mid-March, city leaders have itemized various losses attributed to the pandemic and submitted requests for reimbursement to the state from the federal CARES Act money that was allocated to West Virginia.

So far, the city has received around $4 million in CARES Act reimbursements.

Because of this additional funding and the related expenditures it allows, Wheeling City Council recently passed a resolution requesting a budget revision with the state in order to reflect these new numbers.

Early in the pandemic after businesses were forced to shut down in the spring, the city had to dip into its Municipal Budget Stabilization Fund to finish the last fiscal year at the end of June with a balanced budget. Because of the CARES Act reimbursements, that fund has been replenished — and then some.

“Our Municipal Budget Stabilization Fund is at $3,377,000, and our general fund cash unencumbered balance is $1,630,000,” Herron recently told members of the Finance Committee. “If you add those two together, that $5,007,000. Compare it to the same time last year, which was $2,247,000. The year before that, it was $2,873,000, and the year before that, it was $3.2 million.

“So from a cash perspective, we’re in very good condition in the general fund.”

Looking at expenditures through the first quarter of the new fiscal year — without considering the $4 million in CARES Act funding — the city’s spending is down significantly compared to last year.

“If you adjust that out of the equation, we’re down about $500,000 under the same spot that we were last year,” Herron said.

In terms of revenue for the first quarter of this fiscal year, the city is ahead by $4,748,000 over last year, if the CARES Act reimbursements are considered.

“If you take out CARES Act funding, we’re actually about $200,000 ahead in revenue of where we were the same time last year,” Herron said.

Property taxes are up by $207,000, the city manager noted, indicating that this can be attributed to the Ohio Valley Regional Transit Authority levy. Business and Occupational Tax revenues are down, but inexplicably, sales takes revenues have increased.

“B&O taxes continue to be down by about $165,000, which is reflective of what’s been going on in the local economy,” Herron said, noting that early figures from the state auditor’s office on sales tax revenues for the city show a marked increase over the same period in 2019.

“Sales tax figures are up about 11 percent over last year in the first quarter, and that equates to about $115,000 additional in the general fund,” Herron said. “All in all, even taking out the CARES Act funds, we are off to a pretty solid start for this fiscal year.”

The increase in sales tax revenues in the heart of the pandemic puzzled city officials, although they indicated it was welcome news regardless of the circumstances.

“Do we have any idea of where that’s coming from?” Mayor Glenn Elliott asked. “It’s counter intuitive based on so much of our economy seemingly shut down.”

The city manager indicated that this unexpected increase was discussed by officials in the city’s finance office.

“We talked about that, but we don’t have any way of tracking where the sales tax categories are up, so I can’t answer that,” Herron said.

The bulk of the funds from the CARES Act reimbursement have been directed into the Municipal Budget Stabilization Fund and the city’s Project Fund. According to the budget revision approved by council last week to reflect the new financial figures, increases in expenditures were listed for line items in Planning and Zoning, the Finance Office, the Wheeling Police Department, Parks and Recreation, Visitors Bureau, General Government, and Street and Transportation, as well as the line item for Contributions/Transfers to Other Funds.

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