WHEELING, W.Va. — The idea of a city user fee in Wheeling has been discussed for over a year according to Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, and he said a decision on whether to install one could be coming in the next couple of months.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott addressed the city user fee proposal during his State of the City address on Tuesday. Wheeling officials are wanting to use the fee as a way to pay for a new public safety building that would act as headquarters for both the city’s police and fire departments.
Thalman told MetroNews that talks for a city user fee caught speed after a property tax levy for the construction of a $22 million public safety building did not pass in the November election. The levy received almost 54 percent of the vote in favor when 60 percent is needed to pass.
“At that point in time we started talking about how we can get our police department and fire department the facilities they need,” Thalman said. “A user fee is one of those ways that we think can raise the funds to do that.
“The fire headquarters has structural issues and the police department is about one-tenth the size of other departments with a comparable number of officers.”
Wheeling is the largest city in West Virginia without a city user fee. Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Morgantown, Weirton, and Fairmont all have user fee. The tax is paid weekly and are given to anyone that works in the city.
Thalman said it is too early to tell how much Wheeling’s user fee could be if passed.
“I would guess that we would be in the $2 or $3 range,” he said. “It’s too early to say. It all depends on how many years we would stretch out that debt to pay off the public safety building. Would it be 15 years or 20 years?”
While the public safety building was the driving force behind the idea of the fee, Thalman said it could be used for other projects too.
“There’s a possibility we would also use the user fee for infrastructure needs,” he said. “Whether that would be paving our roads, replacing some bridges, building and maintaining parking garages.”
Thalman said there is only so much that cities in West Virginia can do to raise funds. He told MetroNews other options would be to raise the sales tax or the B&O tax, but the most likely scenario would be the user fee.
As of right now, Thalman said he would lean in favor of the tax if it came to a vote in city council, but he would not exactly be thrilled about it.
“I think it would be a very close vote,” he said. “I think city council is pretty split on this idea. If it comes up for a vote, I would more than likely vote yes for the user fee. That’s a difficult vote. I work in Wheeling, live in Wheeling and pay taxes in Wheeling. I am not excited to pay a new tax and less excited to be the vice mayor who votes to force everyone else in Wheeling to pay this tax.
“It’s going to be a difficult vote but if city council does pass this they are going to do so because they believe it is in the best interest of the city of Wheeling and they believe that we have no other options for our police and fire department than implementing this user fee so we can get them new facilities.”