City council continues budget talks

WEIRTON The possibility of decreasing services or increasing fees was again a major point of discussion Thursday as Weirton city officials held the second workshop to prepare a 2014-2015 fiscal budget to present at Weirton City Council’s meeting Monday.

The mayor, city manager, city finance director, members of city council and several department heads voiced their opinions and concerns regarding the budget and surrounding time constraints. In order to be advertised and sent to Charleston on time, the budget must be approved by city council by March 14.

City Manager Valerie Means and City Finance Manager Thomas Maher outlined some of the cuts that were made in the prospective budget since the last meeting, including the removal of all non-exempt overtime for municipal employees, a $10,000 cut from code enforcement, the removal of allotted funding toward the now defunct Honeywell energy saving project and several other reductions.

Maher said he could not provide a final budget number until it is approved by council.

Although the budget is balanced as it stands, officials said there is currently no room to meet the requests of various city departments in the upcoming year, officials said.

“The way I see it, that means we are already in debt, so we need to take action on this now,”Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel said.

Unless new revenue is generated the city will face a deficit this time next year, according to Means.

Mayor George Kondik, Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh and Ward 4 Councilman George Ash Sr. reiterated their respective opinions from the previous workshop.

Kondik stood by the suggestion of a cable excise tax, or franchise fee, which he said could bring in an estimated $500,000 in revenue per year. He opposed the idea of implementing an across-the-board business and occupation tax because he believes it will “hurt the entire business community.”

Marsh also opposed the B&O tax idea, favoring the cable franchise fee because it gives residents an option. He mentioned that talks should be initiated with state representatives regarding tax structures and how they fund municipalities, because he feels the framework in place now is out of date. Much of it was established in the 1920s and 30s, Marsh said.

Ash repeated several times that he was strongly against raising service fees at all, including the proposed cable franchise fee. He suggested sending the budget in as it stands for now to meet the deadline and making more revisions after the fact.

Ward 5 Councilman George Gaughenbaugh asked if some sort of hybrid between the B&O and the excise tax would be possible.

Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple reminded those present that the city already has a B&O tax specifically for manufacturing and banks, and the revenue generated from that has not necessarily reached expectations. He questioned how much more effective another B&O on retail could be. Dalrymple was also against the cable franchise fee. He proposed alternatively forming a committee that would include some council members, local residents and business owners to get a clearer picture of the public opinion.

“If we are really at this point, down to the bare bones here, then it should be up to the citizens to choose which services they want to be cut and which services they are willing to pay for,” Dalrymple said.

Means commented that it was a good idea, but reminded everyone present about the ticking clock and the urgency of the situation.

City Council will vote on the proposed budget at their regular meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building. Further revisions are expected to be made subsequently.

(Dalrymple can be contacted at sdalrymple@heraldstaronline.com)