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Wheeling Officials Thinking Ahead to Next Fiscal Year Budget

WHEELING — Not even a full month has passed in the new calendar year, but officials in the city of Wheeling already are looking toward the municipal budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Although the 2021-22 fiscal year is still several months away, legwork is being planned to get the various city departments’ budget requests submitted and reviewed, hammer out the anticipated revenues and expenses for the coming year, and prepare a draft budget that will be submitted to the state in the spring. Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said both the general fund and coal severance budgets are scheduled to be submitted to council on Feb. 16

Based on the availability of council members in the coming weeks, city leaders have tentatively scheduled work sessions for the new fiscal year budget for 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 and 11 a.m. on March 5.

“Per West Virginia code, the budget is scheduled to be adopted by city council on March 16, and then once the budget is approved by council and submitted to the state auditor’s office for approval, it comes back, and city council will then lay the levy rate for fiscal year 2021-22 on April 20,” Herron said. “That’s very similar to previous years’ schedules.”

Despite the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wheeling officials have been able to keep city finances in solid condition through the current fiscal year with expenses and revenues in check. Pandemic-related losses have been balanced out by gains in certain revenues from construction projects, property taxes, sales tax and in other areas.

Additionally, federal funding from the CARES Act through state-approved reimbursements have helped provide a fiscal safety net to the tune of more than $10 million in total distributions to the city’s Project Fund and Municipal Budget Stabilization Fund.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said Tuesday he expected city leaders to keep a close eye on the city’s finances as a new budget for fiscal year 2021-22 is developed amid the ongoing pandemic.

“I fully expect that city council, working in conjunction with the city manager, will continue to take a conservative approach to budgeting as we move forward into the next fiscal year,” Elliott said. “Unless and until we see the COVID-19 pandemic lessen its grip on our overall economy, we need to assume a continued impact on our tax revenues.”

At the same time, the mayor noted that with the continued construction work on the Interstate 70 bridges project and the upcoming Downtown Streetscape project on tap, city officials do anticipate generating additional revenues to offset a substantial portion of projected losses.

“We will also continue to monitor developments in Washington to make sure that the city is well-positioned to take advantage of whatever additional stimulus funds are made available to states and municipalities,” Elliott said. “In the past year, we have been able to access such funding to cover COVID-19-related expenses and significantly augment our Budget Stabilization Fund.”

Elliott added that looking ahead, officials will continue focusing on avenues to help support local businesses and stimulate the local economy in any way they can.

“We will continue to look at ways to provide some targeted relief to those businesses most directly impacted by the pandemic, including the B&O rebate proposal already approved by Council’s Finance Committee,” the mayor said.

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