McNeil details priorities for term

NEW CUMBERLAND – Incoming New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil says she has a list of priorities she wants to pursue over the next four years.

Among them is a plan to improve commercial truck traffic on state Route 2 through the city, including on Station Hill. To that end, McNeil said she is meeting with a representative of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office today.

“We’re driving through town, and we’re taking a look at how difficult it is for commercial trucks to get through town,” she said. “I want to find a way to reconcile that and keep our town safe. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not going to be impossible.”

Upon assuming office July 1, McNeil said she also plans to:

Meet with city employees to better learn the responsibilities of each department;

Identify interested residents who are willing to serve on committees, including the Water-Sewerage Board and the Police Committee;

Review, with the help of City Council, the city’s codified ordinances;

Develop a system for either demolishing or rehabilitating blighted buildings; and

Explore the possibility of reviving a committee to oversee downtown improvements.

“With council, I’d also like to identify priority projects. Then I want to work to move those projects forward. That’ll keep us busy for the next four years,” she said.

McNeil said she plans to fill the vacancy that will be created when Ward 2, Seat B Councilman Arthur “Jack” Watson leaves council in June. Although Watson did not run for re-election, he was one of eight people who received a write-in vote for the seat on Tuesday. City Clerk Tammy Jenkins said none of those votes count because none of those people had filed as official write-in candidates.

McNeil received 101 votes in Tuesday’s city elections, defeating incumbent Mayor Richard Blackwell, who had 65 votes, and longtime city employee Pat Jones, who had 62 votes. Jones will retain his seat on City Council in Ward 1, Seat B.

Blackwell congratulated his former New Cumberland High School classmate (Class of ’59) on her victory.

“I wish her the best of luck in her term,” he said. “I think she has a lot of things that are going to have to be taken care of.”

Two projects that Blackwell won’t be able to see through to completion are the installation of handicapped-accessible ramps on Second and Third avenues and the relocation of the sidewalk on Station Hill.

The ramp project, although approved for $160,410 in funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program, is on hold while the State Historic Preservation Office evaluates the historic significance of some of the affected sidewalks.

The Station Hill sidewalk project is contingent on the approval of a $250,000 grant application pending with the state of West Virginia.

“It just seemed like every time I turned around, we were getting stonewalled or delayed by the state,” Blackwell said. “I was really wanting to get the (Americans with Disabilities Act) ramps done on Second and Third avenues, and the state blocked that. That money’s been sitting there. For the whole time I was mayor, we’ve been waiting, and it’s still not here.”

Blackwell pointed to the redesigned entrance to the New Cumberland Municipal Building and the new city water wells as two of his accomplishments as mayor. A former councilman, Blackwell was appointed mayor in May 2011 with the resignation of Mayor Joe Sargent.

“I’m sure the new mayor and council will keep rolling with the projects in the works,” Blackwell said. “If the funding gets released. It’s all dependent on that.”

Rounding out City Council for the new term will be:

Ward 1, Seat A Councilman Will White;

Ward 1, Seat C Councilman Brian Webster, who won re-election on Tuesday, defeating Melissa Perkins;

Ward 2, Seat A Councilman Shawn Marks, who won re-election unopposed; and

Ward 2, Seat C Councilwoman Judith Bartley, who won re-election unopposed.

New Cumberland has a mayor-council form of government in which the mayor and City Council share administrative duties. City Council is made up of six members, three from each ward. According to the city charter, Ward 1 includes everything north of Sedgwick Street (at Smith Oil Co.) and Ward 2 includes everything south of Sedgwick Street.

City elections are non-partisan and are held every two years. Council terms are for four years unless the seat is filled by mayoral appointment, in which case the term is for two years.

Also Tuesday, residents renewed the Park Board levy by a vote of 120 to 92. The levy will continue funding for New Cumberland City Park, the Community House and city playgrounds for 2016 and 2017.

The levy, a tax on real and personal property, generates more than $42,000 a year toward the Park Board budget, Blackwell said. The current levy expires in 2015.