User fee funds city projects

PARKERSBURG – The planned purchase of a new fire truck, 10 police cruisers and three dump trucks and $1 million worth of milling and paving in the city’s 2014-15 budget are being funded by the user fee.

“All of this would not be possible without the fee,” Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Newell was asked by Council Vice President Nancy Wilcox to provide an update on how revenue from the $2.50-a-week user fee is being spent after she received questions from constituents about it. Newell obliged during his message to council Tuesday.

“It goes directly to the departments we said it would, and that would be police, fire and streets,” the mayor said.

The ordinance enacting the fee in 2010 specified the revenue would be dedicated to police and fire protection, flood protection, traffic and street maintenance and public works projects. While it has never quite generated the $2.5 million a year initially projected, the fee has allowed the city to do more paving than it had in recent years.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve done a million-plus (dollars) in paving,” Newell said Wednesday, referring to the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year budget that is set to come before council for final approval on March 11.

Previously the city had done between $400,000 and $600,000 worth of such work a year, he said.

“There was one year during the recession we had none to do,” Newell said.

Close to $1 million in stormwater improvements have been made since the fee was enacted, he said.

Revenue from the fee will allow the city to lease-purchase a number of vehicles in the upcoming fiscal year, including an approximately $680,000 fire truck over 15 years, 10 police cruisers for nearly $200,000 over three years, a pair of one-ton dump trucks for $37,200 apiece over two years and a five-ton dump truck for $100,800 over four years.

It also provides the local match for grant funds allowing the police department to staff a resource officer at each of the city’s three middle schools, which raises the total number of police roster slots from 65 to 68.

“This is the highest number of police allotments we’ve had in our history,” Newell said.

Wilcox said she asked the mayor to address the issue at a public meeting due to questions she’d been receiving.

“I know where that money goes, (but) there’s a lot of people that don’t,” she said.

One thing that has motivated those questions lately is the Parkersburg Utility Board sewer rate increase council approved with a 5-4 vote on final reading Tuesday, Wilcox said. Some residents have asked her why rates are going up when the city has the user fee.

“Well, (we) can’t use it for that,” said Wilcox, who voted against the increase.

The utility board is a separate entity from the city, although council must approve its rates.

“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that,” Wilcox said.

During council’s budget hearings last week, Councilman Jim Reed, chairman of the Finance Committee, asked Newell why user fee revenue and projections were getting lower.

“We started out at 2.4 (million) on the user fee. And we seem to be decreasing,” he said.

Newell said this week that the difference from 2011-12 to 2012-13 was about $43,000, and there are bound to be fluctuations from year to year.

Predictions of $2.25 million for the current fiscal year and $2.28 million for 2014-15 may be lower than what actually is collected, he said.

“What’s in the budget is really just a prediction, and we try to be conservative,” Newell said.

Reed said Wednesday he was curious whether the lower numbers meant fewer people working in the city or difficulty collecting taxes. Newell did not indicate either was the case.