Weirton budget talks continue

WEIRTON The City of Weirton’s 2015 budget might be able to “keep the lights on,” but the newly formed budget review committee members agree there is still plenty of work to be done.

The committee, comprised of members of Weirton City Council and community representatives, held their second meeting Thursday and ended it by recognizing a need for compromise.

In March, city council passed a $14.6 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1. If nothing changes, officials expect a budget shortfall within the next year.

The committee’s goal is to have a plan by July 1, with the possibilities of decreased services, higher fees and taxes, new fees and taxes, or levies for select services, among the options.

“For the past three years the budget has stayed the same while costs go up and up and up,” Ward 5 Councilman George Gaughenbaugh said.

“I’m actually surprised at how much we get done for the amount of staff we have now compared to when I started my career with the city,” Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel agreed.

City Finance Director Tom Maher provided committee members with a detailed breakdown of the budget, and said that a minimum of $1.8 million would be needed to get the contingency fund back “where it needs to be.”

The results of a survey given to committee members to rank the city’s services were also reviewed. Public safety, specifically the police and fire departments, were ranked as most important, but several members expressed the notion that all of the services on the survey are valuable to residents as well.

Ward 6 Councilman and committee chairman David Dalrymple noted that Weirton has a couple examples of duplicate services, which are provided by both the county and the city, meaning the city could nix those as a starting point for cutting back.

Jim Shockley said that while reducing services may help incrementally, the bottom line is that fresh revenue must be generated if the city is expected to grow in the future. He described slimming down even more as “just another Band-aid, not a real solution.”

Rick Stead, a member of the Weirton Police Department, agreed.

“We have to look at it and ask if we are willing to sacrifice things like the library or the rec center. Are we willing to take things like that away from our children and our grandchildren just to kind of keep the status quo?” he asked. “When you start really looking at this stuff here, you realize that everything we need to move forward is right here at our disposal. Why would we not choose to do that? The B and O tax at its highest rate would bring in about $9 million. If you take that in combination with increased fees, you’d have more than enough money to meet your shortfall and put the city in a position to grow.”

Mayor George Kondik, committee co-chair, argued against the Business and Occupation tax, claiming it would hurt small businesses and industrial growth in the city.

Dalrymple summarized discussions regarding the B and O held in previous budget workshops. Those against the measure say it will deter businesses from coming to Weirton. Those who support it say there has not been an influx of business in recent years anyway, so the damage would be minimal compared to the revenue generated.

The meeting ended with an observation from Stead that some compromise is necessary.

“If we’re in this together, the people of Weirton can come together and share the burden. Sometimes you have to look past what’s best for one group or another. Everybody’s got to take a hit in this. We need to spread the burden out, not put it on one group or another. That’s all I’m saying. Nothing can be completely off the table. We have to reach some sort of medium here. It has to be a combination of things. You can’t put it all on citizens, but you can’t put it all on business either,” Stead commented.

The committee will meet again to continue the discussion at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 201 of the Weirton Municipal Building.

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