Parkersburg City Council passes rehab facility moratorium
Mayor proposes group to address issues as ACLU warns of legal action
PARKERSBURG — One thing people on both sides of a moratorium on the establishment of new residential recovery facilities in Parkersburg seemed to agree on Tuesday — passage of the ordinance isn’t the end of the conversation.
Parkersburg City Council voted 8-1, with Councilwoman Wendy Tuck opposed, to approve the ordinance on final reading. It will remain in effect through June 30, 2022.
Multiple people spoke for and against the proposal in the public forum, including ACLU of West Virginia Director of Criminal Justice Reform Greg Whittington, who warned the measure won’t stand up to legal scrutiny.
“The ACLU and other people are going to litigate this, and it’s going to cost them some money,” Whittington said after the meeting.
The civil liberties organization sent city officials a letter prior to the first reading on July 13, saying the ordinance violates provisions of federal law and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said Tuesday the ACLU was “riding for their brand.”
“I think what city council did was stick up for the folks in the community that have legitimate concerns,” he said.
Those concerns include the establishment of group recovery houses in residential areas without notification of neighbors and the potential impact on property values. City officials have also linked the dramatic increase in licensed residential treatment facility beds in the county — from 30 in 2017 to 283 this year — with a rise in homelessness and related crimes.
Whittington said he was encouraged to hear Joyce wants to put together a working group to look at ways to address drug issues, recovery needs and citizen concerns.
The mayor asked council President Zach Stanley to appoint two council members to the group, which he said would also include city officials, the local Substance Use Disorder Collaborative, West Virginia Jobs and Hope, local treatment providers and recovery residences and others.
“I think there are a lot of folks that can help us with what a lot (of people) in the community are concerned with,” Joyce said.
Joyce said he’d had informative meetings with the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences, which certifies sober-living facilities that receive state funding or have clients referred by agencies that receive such funding.
Rich Walters, a local advocate for people in recovery, spoke against the ordinance July 13, saying there’s a smaller number of sober-living beds than treatment facilities. After the vote Tuesday, he said he understood the concerns of those who support the moratorium and hopes people can come together to find solutions.
“To ever get to any type of a good circumstance, there has to be some hard conversations,” he said.
Parkersburg resident Matthew Dodrill said he’d helped with a petition supporting the moratorium that had 376 signatures so far.
“People are frustrated; people are concerned; people are scared,” he said.
Before the vote, Tuck asked how the ordinance would be enforced. City Attorney Blaine Myers said if the city learned of anyone trying to establish such a facility, they would approach them informally at first.
“I suppose litigation would be a last resort to enforce the moratorium,” he said.
Myers said part of the goal of the moratorium is to allow the city, and the state Legislature, time to craft additional laws to balance the need for recovery facilities with the interests of those in the community.
In other business, council unanimously approved allocating $7 million in American Rescue Plan money to the Parkersburg Utility Board. PUB Manager Eric Bennett said the funding would be used toward a projected $14.7 million water system improvement project, which would help mitigate the rate increase needed to pay for it.