Parkersburg City Council endorsement of road bond fails

Photo by Evan Bevins Wood County resident Don Wehr, right, speaks against the Roads to Prosperity bond issue during Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting.

PARKERSBURG — A resolution supporting the “Roads to Prosperity” bond issue got more yes than no votes at Parkersburg City Council’s meeting on Tuesday — but not enough to pass.

Four council members voted for the resolution and three voted against it. Initially, Council President J.R. Carpenter declared it had passed, but City Attorney Joe Santer said near the end of the meeting that it had failed because it did not win the support of a majority of council members present.

Councilman Mike Reynolds was absent Tuesday, and Councilman John Reed abstained from the vote.

Allowed by a proposed state constitutional amendment for which early voting is under way and the special election is Saturday, Oct. 7, the bond issue would generate $1.6 billion over four years for road repairs, upgrades and new construction around the state. The bond issue would fund or help fund 23 projects totaling $75.7 million in Wood County alone. A breakdown of proposed projects can be found on the governor’s office website, www.governor.wv.gov.

Reed said he was abstaining because he didn’t think it was council’s place to make a recommendation on the issue, noting most council members, himself included, did not know which local projects were included.

Photo by Evan Bevins Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber discusses the Roads to Prosperity bond issue during Tuesday’s council meeting. Council voted 4-3, with one member absent and one abstaining, to endorse the ballot measure, but it failed because it did not receive the support of a majority of council members present.

“We’ve got enough city issues to deal with that we should be focused on the city issues instead of the state,” he said Thursday.

Councilman Zach Stanley voted against the measure, along with Councilmen Bob Mercer and Jeff Fox.

“I really don’t understand why this is on our agenda tonight,” Stanley said. “They (voters) don’t need the sway of our council to show them the way to vote.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has touted the bond issue as a job-creating measure, to the tune of 48,000 positions. Councilman Jeff Fox said he’s concerned that the scope of the work and the relatively short timeframe will mean not as many West Virginians will get those jobs as is hoped.

“That kind of opens the door for these out-of-state workforces … to come into the area,” Fox said Thursday. “Obviously, in our area, we’d rather have five, six, eight years of work than a couple years.

“We need to do this in such a way that we have a feasible plan to put as many West Virginians to work as possible,” he said.

Parkersburg resident Eric Engle said during the public forum that projects under the road bond were exempt from the West Virginia Jobs Act, which requires that any contractor working on a state-funded project of at least $500,000 hires 75 percent of its employees from the local labor market.

Carrie Jones, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said Thursday the legislation regarding the bond issue is silent on the Jobs Act but the Jobs Act itself does not apply to projects that include federal funding. A number of the projects proposed for the bond funds also involve federal money.

Councilman Eric Barber called the bond initiative “a stimulus package that our state desperately needs.”

“There’s no way that all West Virginians can be employed,” he said. “There’s just not enough of us.”

Even if out-of-state contractors are used, they will still employ some local workers and workers will spend their money here, Barber said. Local trucking companies will be used, fuel will be purchased in the area and vehicles will be repaired, he said.

As he’s traveled the state to rally support for the issue, Justice has said investment in state roads will increase revenue through increased employment and make West Virginia more attractive to attract new businesses. Revenue to repay the bonds will come from increased DMV fees and a 3.3-cent gasoline tax, among other measures already approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

Don Wehr, who lives outside city limits, said during the council meeting that he was concerned about the state taking on more debt to make infrastructure repairs, even though they are needed.

“I have never seen anyone go to prosperity by going into debt,” he said.

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