PARKERSBURG - Mayor Bob Newell spent about two hours with approximately 80 area residents who came to hear him outline the city's financial state.
Newell spoke for more than hour Tuesday night outlining the city's finances, explaining expenditures and revenues. He also fielded questions for almost an hour, which ranged from parking on Market Street to the proposed $3-a-week user fee.
Afterward two things were obvious: the city's options to raise money to cover the projected $2.5 million deficit are limited. And few - if anyone - who attended the meeting was in favor of the proposed fee.
Parkersburg Bob Newell begins his presentation on city finances.
"No one here is for this (fee)," a citizen said. "Are you going to listen to us?"
Newell agreed with the general consensus that no one wants to face additional taxes. While understanding, Newell repeatedly said the city had only a few options. In his presentation, he said the city's options were to increase B&O tax, property tax, police and fire fees or enact a utility tax or service fee.
"By law, these options are the only ones we have," he said. "This is it.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
City of Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell addresses those attending Tuesday’s meeting about the possible implementation of a user fee for people working within the Parkersburg city limits.
"Is it popular? No."
In addition to the options Newell presented, a number of residents questioned trimming city expenses, such as the police fleet program. Newell said city officials will continue to look inside the city to trim expenses.
He reiterated the city's past cost-saving measures: the reduction of more than 20 positions; elimination of outside agency funding; no major equipment purchases; reduction of fire and police overtime; elimination of holiday pay and the elimination of the city's cell phone contract.
Projected Shortfall (2010-2011)
* Carryover shortfall from 2009: $704,664
* Police and Fire Pension Insurance: $174,150
* Longevity: $165,360
* Loss from St. Joseph's Hospital: $1,048,197
* PERS increase (health insurance): $86,899
* Projected decrease in B&O tax (2 percent): $200,000
* Projected carryover shortfall (2010-2011): $230,000
* Total projected budget shortfall: $2,609,270
Last week, Newell announced the intention to cease longevity pay for city employees as well as increasing employees' costs for health care insurance.
"All these things have to be discussed," he said. "Nobody will appreciate any kind of increase if we don't look inside at what we are doing.
"The bottom line is we have been cutting," Newell said.
"We have, and we will, continue to look at stuff," he added.
About 80 people attended Tuesday's meeting, including five Parkersburg City Council members. Incoming Wood County Commissioner Steve Gainer was also present, along with former city councilman Jim Myers.
About 20 people had questions and comments for Newell, many centered on a possible tax increase, primarily the proposed $3-a-week user fee.
"If we need something we tighten our belts," one man said. "We need this $3 now more than ever."
Newell said he did not disagree and urged residents to attend council meetings.
"If you disagree with taxes, why are you proposing another," the man countered.
"Because we have to come with another $2.5 million," Newell said.
The mayor was asked about the city's $2 million reserve. He said nothing has happened to the city's reserve, but the impending loss of St. Joseph's Hospital from the tax rolls has exacerbated things.
"We know we will have to use a million of that to balance the budget we are in and have some to go into the next year," he said. "That is something we don't have the money to overcome."
According to Newell the city is bound to contribute almost $4 million for police and fire pensions. The contributions increase by 7 percent annually.
Newell also pointed to a 7 percent increase in health care costs in the last year. As well as the overall cost of business, he cited a 22 percent increase in concrete in the last three years, a 30 percent increase in blacktop and a 43 percent increase in salt, including the sky-high cost of $110 a ton in 2009.
"We don't get a discount. We don't get half price," he said. "Everything we buy is extremely expensive.
"Very simply, we are the victim of the recession. Our costs have increased and revenues have stayed the same or gone down."
Newell again downplayed the possibility of raising B&O taxes (the city's single largest source of revenue) or "putting anything else on businesses."
A city employee pointed out they were going to be hit three times by the process - with the elimination of longevity pay, higher health care costs and the user fee.
A Vienna resident who works in Parkersburg complained that she didn't think it was fair to help fund the city's shortcomings. Newell again said he didn't disagree.
"But this is what state law allows and this is all it allows," he said.