Traffic light fund returns to city

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg City Council’s Finance Committee this week recommended allocating $70,000 from the capital reserve fund for a sidewalk repair program, money that will be more than made up now that a new exit is no longer being sought for the Park Shopping Center.

The city allocated $125,000 18 months ago for a traffic signal for the exit, which the head of a marketing firm representing the shopping center’s owner said was vital to attracting a major tenant to the long-vacant former Big Bear Plus store.

It was recently announced that farm and home store Rural King was moving into the facility, and company representatives said the exit was not a requirement, according to Ron Salter, president of Salter and Associates.

Salter said shopping center owner Brad Glazer told representatives of the company he would have to spend more than $20,000 on a traffic study and paving before the exit could be approved and connected by the West Virginia Division of Highways.

“Rural King said, ‘We would rather have you spend the money inside the center,'” Salter said Friday.

That means the city can put the money it set aside for the traffic light back in the capital reserve fund, Mayor Bob Newell said this week. The fund balance currently stands at more than $1 million, but is expected to drop to around $847,000 by the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Council’s Finance Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to fund a sidewalk repair program – in which the city pays for temporary labor to fix stretches of sidewalk where the property owners purchase the concrete – with $70,000 from the capital reserve fund. Newell told committee members the money slated to pay for the traffic light would be coming back to capital reserve, more than offsetting the expense for the sidewalk program.

Property owners are, by law, responsible for maintaining sidewalks, but Newell said it benefits the city to team with them on such a project. The city has used federal funds to fix sidewalks in low-income areas, but such a project can also be cost-prohibitive to people who don’t live in qualifying neighborhoods, he said.

Last year, 59 residents took advantage of the program, on which the city spent about $60,000. Newell said money for the program usually isn’t allocated in the budget, but comes from available funds once spending plans have been set.

Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox asked for the program to be implemented again this year after receiving inquiries from three residents in the 1st District, which she represents.

“My district needs sidewalks bad, and I had several people take advantage of it” previously, Wilcox said after Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting. “It makes the city look better; it helps the residents; it helps us employ a few people who are out of work. It’s just good all around for everybody.”

The allocation must still go before the full City Council, but all nine members were present at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting and no one spoke against it. Details on applying for the program will be released at a later date, Newell said.