PARKERSBURG - A short agenda may not equate to a short meeting of Parkersburg City Council tonight.
Council has four resolutions and the first reading of an ordinance for the proposed $3-a-week user fee. The fee has been much discussed by council in committee meetings, including the Committee of the Whole.
The committee met more than a week ago to discuss and review more than 20 items related to reducing expenses and/or raising revenue. At the end of the meeting, the committee sent only the proposed user fee onto council.
Council President John Rockhold labeled the proposed fee the city's best choice to overcome a projected $2.5 million deficit for the 2011-2012 budget.
"This is the best choice we have," he said.
The proposed $3-a-week fee will cost anyone who works in or is employed by a company within the city limits $156 a year. Officials estimate there are about 22,500 workers in the city and the fee will generate about $3 million.
The fee would go into effect at midnight Jan. 31, 2011.
"I don't know anyone on council who likes it, but at the same time we have a responsibility to be sure we have a solvent city," Rockhold said.
Council member Sharyn Tallman has stated she won't support the fee because city officials will be using Social Security Numbers to track collections.
Rockhold took Tallman to task for her stance. He pointed out she voted on Oct. 12 to allow the city to enter into an agreement with the state for on-line bill paying. Rockhold said paying bills on-line provides easy access to a consumer's credit and financial information.
Tallman countered, noting on-line bill-paying doesn't require a Social Security Number. Tallman said she pays her on-line bills through her bank.
Tallman also said she would like to see a two-year sunset clause put on the fee. Council could review and repeal the fee at anytime, but that's not enough, Tallman said.
"I would like to have a motion made just for the record," she said.
Rockhold also challenged Tallman to come up with an alternative to the proposed user fee.
"I don't mind someone voting no, but give me a solution, something practical, honest and true," he said. "She needs to provide an alternative."
Tallman said council has not entertained all alternatives.
"I'm not in favor of it for a lot of reasons," she said. "I represent my district, which happens to the most impoverished in the city and I am doing what my constituents have asked me to do."
Tallman has also voted against the water rate increase and the toll hike on the Memorial Bridge. She did vote with the rest of council to raise sanitation rates in 2009.
Rockhold said city officials have done their homework and have been diligent in planning for the city's future. He took issue with recent articles and editorials in The News and Sentinel regarding the user fee.
"This is very good planning, as opposed to how we are portrayed in the newspaper," he said. "They are wrong."
Rockhold said officials have done their homework, work that would normally be done in February and March, during the budget process. Either Mayor Bob Newell or council will come to the table with a smaller 2011-2012 budget.
And he said council needs to be good stewards of any income generated beyond the city's needs to fill the deficit. He noted how officials had to dip into the Capital Reserve fund the past two budgets to offset unexpected costs and decreased revenue.
"Any place we borrowed from, we need to put it back," he said.