City reaches consensus on budget

WEIRTON – After numerous weeks of consideration and discussion, city officials came to a consensus Wednesday regarding the direction of the 2014-15 fiscal budget.

Officials, with the help of a citizen committee, have been inching closer to a solution for the projected $1.6 million shortfall in the budget, which goes into effect July 1.

The debate came down to two scenarios, one proposed by Ward 6 Councilman David Dalrymple and another by Ward 7 Councilman Terry Weigel.

Dalrymple’s scenario would:

Reduce the police and fire service fee by about 20 percent. Residential fees would decrease from $50 to $40. Commercial fees would decrease from 15 cents per square foot to 12 cents per square foot. Churches and schools would decrease from eight cents per square foot to six cents per square foot. This would result in an estimated $468,383 decrease in budget revenue.

Enact the Business and Occupation tax with most categories set at 25 percent of the maximum allowable rate. Current business and occupation rates will remain in place, while the production and utilities category would be set at 100 percent of the maximum allowable rate. Retail category would be set to 75 percent of the maximum allowable rate, which is 0.375 percent, with a $500,000 (or $125,000 per quarter) annual exemption. Service category would be set to 75 percent of the maximum rate, which is 0.75 percent, and contractor category would be set at 100 percent of the maximum rate, which is 2 percent, with a $100,000 per project exemption. The B and O changes would result in an estimated additional $2,378,108.29 in revenue.

Any excess funds generated by these changes, in addition to the $1.6 million needed for filling the budget gap, will be used for infrastructure and security.

Result in an estimated total of $1,909,722 of new revenue.

“It allows the city to be funded properly while setting the table to move forward when it comes to viable projects in code enforcement and building security. It provides the services that residents and businesses expect for their investment,” Dalrymple said. “This plan helps out small businesses and start-ups in retail by providing a $500,000 annual threshold before any tax is collected and providing relief on their cost of doing business by reducing the police and fire service fee. It also sets a $100,000 threshold per project in the construction field to protect the small projects done by residents and contractors. The B and O is not a perfect solution, but under the circumstances, the scenario will address the problem, give relief to residents and still protect small businesses. It allows for the possibility of a sales tax in the future to dial down the percentage of the B and O and its effects on the business community.”

Weigel’s scenario would:

Increase all categories of the police and fire service fee by 50 percent. Residential would increase from $50 to $75. Commercial would increase from 15 cents per square foot to 25 cents per square foot, and churches and schools would increase from eight cents per square foot to 12 cents per square foot This would generate an estimated $1,162,992 of revenue.

Enact the B and O tax with the contractor category set at 100 percent of the maximum rate, which is 2 percent. Contractor category revenue would be earmarked for economic development and capital improvement, and there would be a $50,000 per project exemption. Current B and O rates would remain in place, with production and utility categories set at 100 percent of the maximum rate. The B and O changes would generate $215,383 of revenue.

Potentially increase the municipal service fee by 50 cents; from $2 per week to $2.50 per week. This would generate $210,000 of revenue.

Enact a cable franchise fee at its maximum allowable rate, 5 percent, which would generate $428,863 of revenue.

Result in an estimated total of $1,807,238 of new revenue, not including the possible increase on the municipal service fee.

Ward 1 Councilman Ronnie Jones and Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh supported Weigel’s scenario. Marsh made the stipulation that he only supported it “minus the B and O.”

Ward 4 Councilman George Ash Sr., Ward 5 Councilman George Gaughenbaugh and Ward 2 Councilman Chuck Wright expressed support for Dalrymple’s plan, resulting in a 4 to 3 consensus.

Wright, who ended up as the swing vote, noted the difficulty of the decision.

“We’ve spent a great deal of time, particularly in the last couple weeks, going over proposals and talking, and I’ve lost a fair amount of sleep from it. It’s just one of those things that grabs you and kind of won’t let you go,” he said. “I think what sealed the deal for me was the situation that happened here Monday night at 11 p.m. That was one of the things that we had cut out in previous discussion: the funds for security upgrades at the city building. I talked to the chief yesterday, and I don’t believe there’s enough money in Councilman Weigel’s proposal to get us what we need. So I have decided to support Councilman Dalrymple’s proposal.”

Wright was referring to Monday night’s discovery, made by Weirton Police, of three explosive chemical devices around the exterior of the municipal building. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now in possession of the defused devices and in the process of following up the investigation, according to Chief Bruce Marshall.

City Manager Valerie Means and City Finance Director Tom Maher will be working to put together two ordinances encompassing the changes in Dalrymple’s plan to be ready for their first reading at the upcoming city council meeting, 7:30 p.m. Monday.

“I’m glad that we went through this process and involved the public and shared in their ideas. After many hours, I think we’ve reached a solution together,” Weigel said.

“I want to thank Terry and the rest of council, the citizen committee and staff, particularly City Finance Director Tom Maher, for all the work everyone put into solving the budget issues facing the city now and in the immediate future. I also want to thank the business owners for taking the time to talk to me to help reach a plan based on common sense,” Dalrymple commented.