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Parkersburg City Council considers homelessness No. 1 priority

Parkersburg City Councilman Bob Mercer speaks during a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss council priorities Friday at the Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — Addressing the effects of homelessness on the community was identified Friday by Parkersburg City Council members as the top priority for 2021.

“Right now we’re fighting an uphill battle, and if it’s not the No. 1 thing, none of us is going to have a whole lot to represent in four years,” Mayor Tom Joyce said during a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole to discuss issues and concerns members want to see addressed this year and in the upcoming four-year term.

The Committee of the Whole consists of all nine council members and provides a more informal forum for council to discuss topics.

Council President Zach Stanley opened the meeting going district by district to ask new and returning council members what they saw as short-term goals on which council should focus.

“We’re all working together to make sure the city gets better,” Stanley said. “The city provides essential services for the residents.”

Parkersburg City Council President Zach Stanley, right, explains the format for a council workshop to discuss priorities for the coming year and the four-year term during a Committee of the Whole meeting Friday at the Municipal Building as Councilmen Austin Richards, left, and Chris Rexroad listen. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

The topic of homelessness first came up when Councilwoman Wendy Tuck suggested holding focus groups with different stakeholders, such as business owners on Seventh Street. Joyce said the No. 1 complaint for that group would undoubtedly be homelessness and related crimes, like trespassing, vandalism and theft.

“Not all homeless people are criminals,” Joyce said after the meeting. “But the reality is folks are fed up with the homeless intrusion on the businesses and the neighborhoods.

“We’ve just got to get handle on it, and we need help,” he said.

During the meeting, Joyce said he’s spoken with some longtime business owners in the city “who are legitimately considering relocating their wholesale operations, lock, stock and barrel” because of the issues.

“If we don’t start taking care of the people who take care of us (in terms of paying taxes and providing jobs), there’s not going to be anything left,” he said.

Parkersburg City Councilman Chris Rexroad writes down items fellow council members identify as concerns in their districts during a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole on Friday at the Municipal Building. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Stanley, Councilwoman Sharon Kuhl and Councilman J.R. Carpenter said they believe the city has taken positive steps to address homelessness, such as establishing a civilian homeless outreach coordinator position in the Parkersburg Police Department.

Council members ranked working to address dilapidated properties second, with Stanley saying that would help reduce the number of vacant structures in which homeless individuals might try to seek shelter.

“I’ve only received a few calls so far, and they’ve all been about abandoned homes that can’t be fixed,” said Councilwoman Jessica Cottrille, who represents District 1 in south Parkersburg.

“We don’t have many (in District 9), but the few that we have are very noticeable,” Councilman Austin Richards said.

Richards said he hopes the city can address issues with substance abuse rehabilitation centers. He said the Recovery Point peer-led facility in his district has done great things but he’s concerned about people who don’t complete that program or similar ones and remain in the city.

Carpenter said he’d like to see the city pass an ordinance restricting where rehab facilities can locate in proximity to places like parks, day care centers and churches. Former City Attorney Joe Santer had been working on such an ordinance prior to his retirement.

“Mr. (City Attorney Blaine) Myers is reviewing the ordinance Mr. Santer had written and looking at some options,” Joyce said.

That was identified by the group as a long-term goal, along with the sale of city property like the Memorial Bridge, Central Garage and Point Park Marketplace and renovating and upgrading the City Park Pavilion.

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

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Priorities Identified by Council

Short-term

1. Homelessness

2. Dilapidated homes

3. Streets/sidewalks

4. Stormwater

5. Parks and recreation/beautification

Long-term

* Sale of city property (Central Garage, Memorial Bridge, Point Park Marketplace)

* City Park Pavilion

* Concrete slab street repair

* More accountability for rehab centers

* New fire station in Gihon Road area

* Establishing community centers

* Sports complex

* Dog park

* 13th Street retaining wall

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