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Wheeling Giving Each City Employee $1,000

$3.5M Cash Carryover Allows City To Offer Boost

Photo by Eric Ayres Wheeling City Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, discusses the city’s fiscal year-end finances Tuesday night at the City-County Building.

WHEELING — The city of Wheeling finished the 2020-21 fiscal year with a general fund cash carryover of more than $3.5 million, and from the surplus, each city employee will be receiving a one-time $1,000 salary increase.

Members of the Finance Committee of Council met Tuesday night before the regular city council meeting to discuss the carryover with City Manager Robert Herron, who made several recommendations on how the money should be spent.

“The net cash carryover for the general fund for this year that ended on June 30 was $3,520,000,” Herron said, recommending budget revisions that were subsequently approved by the Finance Committee. Resolutions approving budget revisions to the city’s general fund and coal severance budgets were later approved unanimously by city council.

Herron noted that the city has encumbrances of just under $700,000 that still need to be paid out of the general fund carryover total. Those debts include payments to the Ohio County Health Department, a pass-through security for the Ohio Valley Regional Transit Authority, payments involved in the Wheeling Fire Department’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan and other outstanding commitments.

“For the unencumbered cash balance — which is $2,823,920 — we’re recommending that there be various salary adjustments that were budget clean-up of about $160,000, and we’re also recommending $385,000 for salary adjustments across the board, which would include about $1,000 per employee,” the city manager said.

The $1,000 salary increase for employees would be a one-time payment that would be considered a COVID-related expense, allowable through the city’s American Rescue Plan allocation. The city has received the first of two payments from the ARP for municipal COVID relief, totaling around $29.5 million. These city employee pay bumps will be in addition to the raises approved last January and those that are expected to be considered at the beginning of the next calendar year.

Under the eligible uses for the ARP funding, a “lost revenue projection” is an allowable calculation, and this was calculated into what is now a portion of the unencumbered general fund cash carryover, Herron explained, noting that the funds cannot be used for budget stabilization, pension payments or debt.

Herron indicated that other cities in the state already took similar action earlier in the pandemic.

Additionally, unencumbered carryover funds will be used to fund a new line item requested by first responders for public-safety related mental health services in the amount of $30,000. They will also be used for the new Municipal Tree Commission, for an additional $500,000 in paving projects for the fall and a $32,000 investment toward a joint effort with the Ohio County School District and the House of the Carpenter to build an all-inclusive playground on Wheeling Island at Madison Elementary School, among other uses.

“Overall, the fiscal year ended very strongly,” Herron said, noting that the city came in under budget in terms of expenses for the year. Revenues were adjusted several times over the past year because of federal COVID relief payments through the CARES Act and ARP allocations. The city received about $1 million per month during the pandemic through CARES Act expenditure-related reimbursements, and that funding helped bolster the city’s municipal budget stabilization fund and project fund.

“There are certain revenue line items that are down a little bit, but there are others that have come back and bounced back as a result of us coming out of the pandemic,” Herron said, reviewing the June financial statement. “Overall, it was a fairly solid year.”

Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, said, “It was absolutely a year like no other – I hope we never see such a year again. I am grateful for city council and for the city staff for all the hard work to get through this.”

Herron congratulated city council for coming out of the pandemic in such strong fiscal standing.

“This time last year, things weren’t looking that bright,” he said. “We’ve been able to take advantage of every opportunity that’s been presented to us, as well as coming in at 92% of budget is a reflection of everybody buckling down and doing everything they possibly could to provide city services at the highest level.”

The city’s coal severance fund had about $11,000 at the end of the fiscal year, Herron noted, recommending that this carryover be put into the general city manager’s revenue line item.

Members of the Finance Committee also approved a request to increase municipal employee pensions for both 2018 and 2019, as recommended by an actuarial consulting firm from Philadelphia which officials said have reviewed these matters for the city for many years.

“At the end of 2018, the municipal pension fund was overfunded by $1.1 million,” Herron said, noting that a 1.55% increase for 2018 and a 2.49% increase for 2019 for retirees would be “appropriate and affordable for the pension funds.”

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