Parkersburg officials hear about home rule, budget

PARKERSBURG – Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie spoke Tuesday to Parkersburg City Council, asking members to call state legislators in support of home rule.

McKenzie has been mayor of Wheeling for more than four years and was a state senator for 12 years. Wheeling is one of four cities in West Virginia authorized to participate in the state’s Home Rule Pilot Program, and that program is set to expand to include four more cities.

Mayor Bob Newell has asked council to consider applying for the Home Rule Pilot Program.

McKenzie said he will be conducting a home rule workshop this weekend at the West Virginia Municipal League’s Mid Winter Conference. Newell said several council members will be in attendance.

Home rule “empowers the citizens that live in your community and allows you to govern locally, and I think that is the best way to explain home rule,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie said several of the changes Wheeling made under home rule, such as reducing licensing fees and the number of licenses required, are changes now being considered by the state for all municipalities.

“That means home rule has been working,” he said.

McKenzie encouraged the council as a whole and individual council members to contact state legislators and the governor’s office and encourage them to allow more cities to have home rule.

He also urged council to apply to be part of the Home Rule Pilot Program when it expands, and warned them many other cities also are hoping to apply.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 6, 8, 10 or more cities come forward wanting to be a part of this,” he said. “I think it is going to be more competitive than you think.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Newell presented city council with Parkersburg’s 2013-14 budget, giving a brief overview.

Newell said projected revenues remain flat, but due to savings through cuts and attrition, there are some dollars within the budget which should go to equipment and raises.

“Wages have remained low to a point where we can’t even attract employees in the skilled labor positions, such as electricians, mechanics, firemen and policemen,” he said. “We have five employees still below the national poverty level.

“If we plan to continue running lean with the new reduced number of employees over time, then we have to be able to keep our current experienced employees from leaving over low wages.”

Newell also announced $1 million budgeted for street resurfacing, which is in addition to routine maintenance and $300,000 in storm water funds. He announced hotel tax revenue would be used for events, such as Parkersburg Homecoming and the Multicultural Festival, rather than being funneled into city parks through the general fund.

“This year I have created line items to specifically address those events that actually are a tourist drawing attraction,” he said.

Council will reconvene as the Committee of the Whole at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 for the first round of budget hearings. Three budget meetings are planned.