Delay Action On Building

More than a few people have had the unpleasant experience of spending a significant amount of money for something worthwhile, then being shocked by a major financial setback. Perhaps a new car was purchased just before being laid off. Or it may have been expensive home improvements followed swiftly by a costly illness.

If we had just known in advance, we would not have spent the money.

Wheeling officials now find themselves in the position of knowing in advance.

On Wednesday, employees of Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry were informed the facilities will be closing Oct. 7. That is a terrible blow, not just to health care in our region but also to Wheeling’s economy.

The vast majority of the hospitals’ roughly 1,200 employees work at OVMC. Many, perhaps most, of them live in Wheeling.

Closure of OVMC will mean the local unemployment rate will skyrocket. The trickle-down effect will mean loss of a substantial number of other jobs that rely indirectly on the hospital.

Loss of OVMC will affect the city, county and school system budgets, too.

As if the OVMC/EORH news was not bad enough, city officials must worry about Wheeling University. Though it appears to be funded adequately for the coming year, the future after that is uncertain, to say the least.

Is now the time to proceed with construction of a new $14.5 million public safety building in Wheeling? No.

City officials have been recommending such a facility for more than a year. Last summer, they proposed one that was to cost about $20 million. When voters failed to approve a property tax increase to cover that, a new strategy was devised. It includes both the lower-priced building and a new funding scheme — a user tax to be paid by people who work in the city.

Most city council members seem to be of the opinion that full speed ahead is the appropriate approach. Preliminary approval has been given to the user fee. A vote on constructing the building had been expected for later this month.

But the OVMC/EORH announcement changes everything. No one can say with certainty how it will affect municipal finances — though, obviously the envisioned user fee would bring in noticeably less money because fewer people would be working here.

City officials — and taxpayers — are fortunate in a way that the Alecto announcement came when it did. At least now, there is time to consider the potential ramifications of losing OVMC before a major commitment such as that for the public safety building is made.

Mayor Glenn Elliott and city council members should be relieved about that. They should put the public safety building plan on hold until more is known about just where municipal finances will stand a few months from now.

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