Parkersburg City Council to consider outdoor dining, fireworks

Pensions, sales tax not on agenda

PARKERSBURG — Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council agenda includes the final reading of an ordinance regulating outdoor dining downtown, a resolution supporting the Roads to Prosperity bond issue and the first reading of an ordinance dealing with fireworks.

What’s not on the agenda is legislation closing the police and firefighter pension plans to new hires and establishing a dedicated 1 percent sales tax to pay increased costs toward the pensions’ liability, measures referred to council last week by the Finance Committee.

City Attorney Joe Santer said the legislation wasn’t ready in time to make the agenda.

“I fully expect that to be in front of them for the first meeting in October,” he said.

Despite the committee’s recommendations, Mayor Tom Joyce said city officials and council members continue to talk about how to deal with the liability and need for additional funding.

“We’re still having discussions,” he said.

Closing the plans to new hires stops the liability from continuing to grow while also allowing the city to change the method by which it pays toward the funds.

Under a plan entered in 1991, the city pays 107 percent of the previous year’s payment, which will continue to increase until personnel costs account for more than $20 million of the city’s budget by 2034.

The new plan would allow the city to amortize the debt and require an increase of more than $2 million a year in payments, though that is projected to decrease, rather than increase, over time. To come up with the additional money, the Finance Committee recommended a dedicated 1 percent sales tax that would raise $5 million a year. That would not only provide the additional funds but allow the city to use less money from the general fund to pay on pensions, some council members said.

If the new tax is approved, the city must provide the state with 180 days of notice, meaning it would need to be approved by the end of 2017 in order to start being collected by July 1, 2018, the start of the next fiscal year.

The pension plans can be closed at any time, Finance Director Eric Jiles said, but when they are, the closure is considered retroactive to the start of the fiscal year. That means additional funding would be due by June 30, before the new tax, if it’s approved, would go into effect.

“It will require additional funding if council decides to close the plans this year,” Joyce said.

A strategy for that has not been determined yet, Jiles said.

Before the meeting, council members will gather in the small conference room adjacent to council chambers for a “pre-council” meeting, something that is allowed under the legislative body’s rules but which hasn’t been done in more than a decade.

Council’s rules say that “no votes shall be taken and that the purpose of these informal meetings shall be to inform the Council as to agenda items or other matters which the President, the Mayor, or other members of Council deem proper.”

Council President J.R. Carpenter said some newer council members asked about the pre-council meeting to talk about agenda items informally.

“So I said, ‘OK, you guys want to try it; we’re allowed to do it as long as we come to no conclusions,'” he said.

Pre-council meetings are also open to the public, Santer said. If the discussion is as simple as requesting more information for a matter to be discussed in the meeting itself or the mayor informing council members of an upcoming event, that’s fine, he said, but members must be careful not to segue into “deliberative” discussion, especially on something that isn’t on the agenda.

“If it’s anything that’s ultimately going to be in front of council, I think you have to be very careful with it,” Santer said.

Councilman John Reed, who participated in pre-council meetings when he previously served in the early ’80s, said he would not consider it proper to veer from the agenda to discuss any significant items.

“That, to me, would be a problem because the public’s not been properly informed,” he said.

Items on the agenda include:

* A resolution supporting the “Roads to Prosperity” bond issue that will come before voters on Oct. 7.

* A resolution authorizing Joyce to accept a $23,800 Homeland Security grant for Fire Department equipment with a $2,163 local match.

* The final reading of an ordinance setting rules for outdoor dining in the downtown Central Business District.

* The final reading of an ordinance amending city code regarding obstructions to streets and sidewalks with regard to the outdoor dining ordinance.

* An ordinance lifting the city’s ban on fireworks only between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m. July 2-4 and 9 p.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1 and granting the Fire Department authority to enforce provisions of the ordinance.