Air Public Safety Plan Before Public

After failing to gain enough voter support to proceed with their plan for a new public safety building, Wheeling officials went back to the old drawing board. Now, they have come up with a new proposal that can be implemented without putting the matter to a vote.

Still, it needs to be explained fully to the public — who will pay for it one way or another, if the building is constructed.

Last year’s proposal was for higher taxes to fund the new building, at more than $20 million, and to make $1.5 million in other public safety improvements. In a referendum last November, about 53 percent of voters approved the plan, but it failed because state law requires 60 percent.

Last week, City Manager Robert Herron outlined a new proposal. It calls for spending $12.5 million to construct a new public safety building, with another $2 million required for site acquisition and preparation. And, instead of using the 10th and Market streets property proposed last year, another lot would be utilized. City staff members have recommended the site of a vacant warehouse in East Wheeling.

Though there was no discussion of a funding source this week, city officials have suggested a “user fee” — approved by City Council without going back to voters. The fee would be a weekly amount, as high as $3 according to some reports, charged to people who work in Wheeling. Employers would be responsible for collecting it and remitting proceeds to the city.

One reason city officials should present details of the plan and the funding proposal is that for some Wheeling residents, it could cost more than last year’s idea.

Prior to the referendum last November, Herron said that if voters approved the measure, the resulting increase in property taxes would be about $105 a year for the average homeowner. At $3 a week per person, the user fee could cost families with two members employed in Wheeling nearly three times that much.

At least a couple of public meetings should be scheduled for city officials to discuss the new proposal in detail and to answer questions about it. They may not be given the opportunity to vote on it, but clearly, many Wheeling residents have a big stake in the matter.

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