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Parkersburg City Council considering URA change

New proposal would put business reps, citizens on board

PARKERSBURG — The city’s Urban Renewal Authority would consist of appointees from related industries and other citizens, rather than all nine council members, under a resolution before Parkersburg City Council Tuesday.

The agenda for the meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building, also includes the first reading of an ordinance transferring the site of a planned new fire station to the Municipal Building Commission.

The Urban Renewal Authority was established in 1971, Councilman John Reed said. Since that time, with the City Council as its membership, the body has tended to focus on smaller items such as individual blighted properties, he said.

“We’re still addressing small items that really City Council could address,” Reed said. “I think we’d be better served by putting people in the finance/banking industry and the real estate/development industry on that board.”

Under the proposed ordinance, the authority would consist of seven members — one council member; three individuals from “the banking, real estate or development/planning communities of the city” and three others nominated by the mayor. All appointees would be approved or selected by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. With the exception of the council member, they would serve staggered five year terms.

Reed said the URA has the ability to acquire property by eminent domain, as well as establish a land bank through which it could purchase land. These powers would allow the authority to address larger areas for development, rather than dilapidated homes here and there, he said.

Council members have discussed housing and other development efforts over the last couple of years. The 2019-20 budget included $100,000 in funding for the authority to support those efforts.

“We would hope that this new … Urban Renewal Authority could generate money from the private industry to put into it,” Reed said.

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said he agrees with council members who have said the URA needs to be more proactive.

“This is something that, quite frankly, I think has been a little overdue,” he said. “It might be more effective.”

Reed said city officials could seek input from groups like the Homebuilders and Realtors associations for potential appointees. City Attorney Joe Santer said members who work for or are affiliated with business involved in projects before the authority would have to recuse themselves from voting, consistent with other city boards and commissions.

An ordinance on first reading would convey the existing fire station 4 at Emerson and West Virginia avenues and neighboring property purchased by the city to the Municipal Building Commission, which intends to issue bonds to finance the design and construction of a new fire station. Station 4 was built in 1932 and has a variety of structural problems.

It would be the second Depression-era fire station replaced, with the new station 2 at 16th and Covert streets opening in July.

Another resolution before council would establish a passing score of 70 percent for the firefighters’ entrance exam. Council is being asked to confirm the change after it was approved by the municipal fire Civil Service Commission.

Fire Chief Jason Matthews said tests firefighters must take during and after training have a minimum passing score of 70 percent, but the entrance exam has never had such a threshold. While he said he’s never seen an instance in which no one taking the test scored above that level, if it happened, the department would have to begin the process of vetting a prospective employee who might not be able to pass the other exams necessary to maintain their job.

“It just gives us a standard to go by,” he said.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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Parkersburg City Council Agenda

* Reappointments of Scot Swartz, Charles Casto, Shelley Capel, William Niday and Doug Jones to WVU Medicine Camden Clark’s Board of Trustees.

* Resolution authorizing the mayor to accept a $75,000 Homeland Security grant to purchase 60 Microsoft Surface Pro 6 tablets for police patrol vehicles.

* Resolution approving amendments to the Firemen’s Civil Service Commission rules setting 70 percent as the minimum passing score for the firefighters’ entry exam.

* Resolution reconstituting the Urban Renewal Authority with seven members: one City Council member; three members from the banking, real estate or development/planning community; and three nominated by the mayor.

* Final reading of an ordinance increasing the minimum height for the lowest limb hanging over a city sidewalk, street or alley from 8 to 13 feet.

* Final reading of an ordinance establishing the Avery Historical District in municipal code.

* The first reading of an ordinance conveying the planned site for the new fire station 4 to the Municipal Building Commission, which can issue bonds to fund the construction.

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