Since it first became an issue for discussion, the Parkersburg user fee has been a lightning rod for criticism of both Mayor Bob Newell and city council members. Facing a potential $2.3 million budget hole, and left with no alternatives other than laying off city employees-including police officers and firefighters-council passed the fee, which began being collected in March 2011.
Many people were upset, but since the $2.50-a-week fee took effect, it has to be acknowledged it has restored financial stability to the city.
It was not a popular decision, and the mayor and incumbent council members were undoubtedly expecting it to be an issue during the 2012 election. And, to no one's surprise, it has been an issue.
There is nothing wrong with this. However, many of the candidates for mayor or for city council seem to be against the user fee and pledge to eliminate it without being willing to say what they would do to replace the fee.
Democratic mayoral candidate Gerald Board, both in an ad and in a story published Tuesday in the newspaper, called the fee "an unfair tax," and pledged to try and eliminate it. But, Board is more than vague on how he would do this, stating only " ... we are going to look into it."
Board isn't the only one against the fee, several city council candidates also have made it an issue in their campaigns. However, making something an issue is one thing; offering a solution for the budget hole it will create is another.
The current administration and city council studied this issue for months before voting to implement the fee. They believed the fee was the only alternative to cutting services to residents or cutting the ranks of police and/or firefighters.
Incumbents' records are there for anyone to see. They are fair game. The user fee is a part of that record. Candidates can say they are against the user fee and, if elected, will vote to repeal it.
But here is something else they should say: they should say how they will replace the money the fee brings in. If they do repeal the fee, are they willing to make the cuts in services and personnel to make up the deficit? What are their ideas for the city?
Voters have the right to know this before the election.