WHEELING - Wheeling leaders need to take a long, hard look at the size of the city's payroll as the cost of government increases and once-reliable sources of revenue dry up, Mayor Andy McKenzie said Tuesday during his state of the city address.
He said Wheeling is feeling the effects of population loss - and while it has reduced its work force by about 8 percent through attrition since he took office in 2008, rising pension and health care costs and uncertainty over state and federal funding are forcing city leaders to re-evaluate the efficiency of government to avoid burdening future generations of taxpayers. Wheeling currently employs about 390 people.
"We will look for ways to shrink our work force, through reviewing efficiencies of services or even departments. We will not just push off the inevitable. ... While I do see positives for our local economy, I'm not sure it will be enough," McKenzie said.
THE STATE OF WHEELING — Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie delivered his annual state of the city address Tuesday. — Scott McCloskey
"As a community moving forward, there are uncertainties at our doorstep, at both the state and national level, beyond our control," he added.
The mayor took the stage for his fifth-annual state of the city at the Capitol Theatre ballroom to a standing ovation from a crowd of about 200. He kept a positive tone throughout the majority of the speech, which was heavy on praise for civic leaders and expanding businesses but light on new initiatives. McKenzie hinted at possible expansion of the city's home rule plan and a need to bring a "fresh approach" to the city's various boards and commissions, but provided few specifics.
He did pledge completion this year of several previously announced projects, including the Market Plaza renovation, Heritage Port Gateway Park and more handicapped-accessible sidewalks on Main and Market streets. These improvements, he said, will create "welcoming areas for people in our downtown."
"These investments, along with West Virginia Northern Community College, are demonstrating continued growth and improvement in our downtown area. With the conversion of the old car lots into modern new classrooms and a student union, there is no doubt that 16th and Market Street is one of the nicest intersections in our state."
McKenzie did not discuss the future of the 1100 block downtown during the speech, and made only passing mention of the $3.3 million J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling expected to be complete by May.
He expressed concern about state-level issues with the potential to have a major impact on cities, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to cut revenue from legalized gambling to cities and counties, as well as Senate Bill 317, a measure that would restrict local governments' ability to enact gun regulations. Even with an amendment solidifying their authority to ban guns on government property, the legislation would otherwise place all matters involving firearms in the Legislature's hands.
During the speech, McKenzie also took time to present his third-annual Community Spirit Award to Pete Holloway, citing his contributions to various city organizations and furthering the arts. He also thanked retiring Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Terry Sterling for his nearly 20 years of service, calling him "a good friend of Wheeling and mine."
Following the speech, council members praised the upbeat tone of McKenzie's address.
"It was a good, positive speech," said Councilman Don Atkinson. "I think he covered most of the bases, touched on a little of everything. Good crowd, too."
Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge also liked what she heard from McKenzie.
"The mayor always does an excellent job when it comes to this," Delbrugge said. "This was a great turnout."