Parkersburg City Council approves $750K for splash park

Amended outdoor dining ordinance advances

Parkersburg City Councilman Mike Reynolds, left, speaks during Tuesday’s council meeting at the Municipal Building, as Councilmen John Reed and Zach Stanley listen. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — A resolution to set aside $750,000 for a splash park passed in an 8-1 vote at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting, though some citizens questioned the move.

“If we have that kind of money, why aren’t we working on our infrastructure?” Nancy Wilcox, a former council member, asked during the public forum on agenda items.

Wilcox said that money would go a long way toward extending sidewalks on Rayon Drive and Gihon Road on south side, even beyond what state grant funds would do, thereby improving safety for children walking in the area.

The money is to be taken from the city’s carryover from fiscal year 2016-17, which ended June 30. However, the final calculations for the carryover have not been completed, Finance Director Eric Jiles said last week.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said a representative of a private, charitable foundation offered in March to contribute $250,000 to construction of a splash park at the City Park pool. Upgrading municipal pools has been discussed for years as aquatic centers in Marietta and St. Marys have drawn people from around the area.

Former Parkersburg City Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox questions a council resolution to set aside $750,000 for a splash park instead of spending the money on infrastructure needs during the first public forum at Tuesday’s council meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“The individual who heads up that foundation came to me a few weeks ago and said, ‘What’s going on'” with the project? Joyce said. “If we want to keep that pledge, we need to act.”

Councilman Mike Reynolds said the project would improve the quality of life in the area and bring people back to the pools, which are subsidized by the city’s general fund.

“The pools never make money, but we lose a lot of money,” he said. “I think this (project) is something that we will eventually break even on.”

Reynolds said it could spark other donations in the future.

Parkersburg resident Bill Schleier said he wanted more information about the project, including the cost, the useful life and whether it would be handicap accessible.

“This ‘Field of Dreams’ approach seems to be an expensive gamble that council is willing to take,” he said.

Council President J.R. Carpenter called the project a “step toward growth” and said the money could be moved elsewhere if a need arose.

“It’s just being set aside,” he said. “We don’t have a final cost. We don’t have designs. We have nothing.”

The resolution passed 8-1, with Councilman Jeff Fox casting the dissenting vote. Fox suggested putting at least some of the money toward the city’s police and fire pension obligations, which threaten to take up an increasingly larger amount of the budget if no changes are made. Joyce said that while proposed solutions involve paying more money into the funds at some point, that is a problem that can be addressed over the next three decades.

In other business, council voted 8-0, with Carpenter recusing himself, to approve an amended ordinance allowing and regulating outdoor dining downtown. A related amendment to the city’s ordinance regarding obstructions in streets and sidewalks passed by the same total.

The Public Works Committee in August recommended changes to the ordinance, including removing a prohibition against glass containers and requiring that beer not be served in its original packaging. They also increased the required clear right of way from three to four feet after Vienna resident Warren Peascoe, who shops and attends church in Parkersburg, said more space was needed for wheelchair users like himself.

During the public forum, Walker resident Rodney Wilson read concerns from Peascoe and Peascoe’s wife, Judith, who were not in attendance. Their suggestions included a trial run on the proposed dining areas before approving the ordinance and expanding the right of way to six feet.

Vienna resident Kim Williams pointed out language in the outdoor dining ordinance prohibiting the denial of service or access to an outdoor dining area on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. She asked council to add gender identity and veteran status to the ordinance, characteristics that, along with sexual orientation and genetic information, were included in a rejected ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“It is also my hope that council will allow us to dine inside without fear of discrimination,” said Williams, a member of Fairness Parkersburg, which advocated for the nondiscrimination ordinance and held a demonstration outside the Municipal Building Tuesday.

No amendments beyond the committee recommendations were made. The final reading will take place on Sept. 26.

In other business:

∫ Council unanimously approved an amendment to the HOME Program budget to provide $100,000 in federal funds to a 40-unit apartment building for senior citizens at the site of the former Rayon School, a $7 million project planned by an Ohio-based nonprofit developer.

∫ A resolution to eliminate the second public forum at council meetings was not taken up after multiple council members withdrew their sponsorship, leaving it without the minimum three sponsors to be on the agenda.

∫ In a Tuesday afternoon meeting, council’s Public Works Committee voted 3-2 to refer an amendment to the city’s fireworks ordinance to the full council. Among other things, it would lift the city’s ban on fireworks for designated times leading up to the Fourth of July and on New Year’s Eve.