By JANET METZNER
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Mayor Glenn Elliott says he’s confident Gov. Jim Justice will veto the bill eliminating state funding for greyhound dog breeding.
But to assure that greyhound racing funding continues, Elliott said he urges the Republican-dominated Northern Panhandle delegation to the West Virginia Legislature to ease the heated, bipartisan budget debate, and work with the governor’s version of the budget that “preserves greyhound racing and sets aside much-needed funds for roadway improvements by including some modest revenue measures.”
Elliott said he and City Manager Robert Herron learned Monday during a talk with Justice that the Democrat opposes Senate Bill 437 that passed both chambers.
The bill was sent to the governor on Monday, according to legislative records.
During this, Justice’s first legislative session as governor, he has scolded Republican legislators’ call for more spending cuts, by criticizing the “basketful of Republicans” whose cuts he says are akin to “taking scalps.” During that same talk, he said Democrats are “courageous” in backing his version of the budget.
The bill calls for eliminating the $15 million per year to the state greyhound breeders, and redirects it to the general fund where legislators are working to balance a budget with a $450 million deficit.
It’s vital funding for the Northern Panhandle economy that’s home to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and helps generate revenue for the entire state.
If the bill were to become law, it would have “a devastating impact” on the state’s economy, namely that of the Northern Panhandle, and on “city revenues and finances going forward,” Elliott said during a Tuesday City Council meeting held at Wheeling Park High School.
However, there’s no need for panic, Elliott added. That’s because, if the Legislature would try to override a veto, the movement against the bill likely has enough votes to stop it.
He said he and other city officials have been meeting with legislators in the House of Delegates and Senate during the past two weeks, and have garnered more votes against the bill.
So far the governor hasn’t made a public promise to veto the bill, and Justice and his spokesman, Garrick Herring, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Elliott urged all Northern Panhandle legislators to limit the current “distance between the House and Senate budgets on the one hand, and the governor’s budget on the other.”
Also during the council meeting, Elliott gave an update on SB 238, which would increase tax credits allowed to developers of historic structures. The bill’s proposed increase is from the current 10 percent statewide, to 25 percent — an amount that’s more competitive with the tax credits of bordering states.
“The credit’s been at 10 percent for a long time, and we believe it’s been holding back development,” Elliott said, adding that if the bill becomes law, Wheeling will benefit because it’s rife with vacant, historic structures waiting to be renovated and occupied.
While visiting with legislators, “We’ve conveyed our support for the bill,” as passed by the Senate, he said. However, the city opposes a proposed House amendment that would cap the allowed tax credit to $5 million statewide.
In other council business, members voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the West Virginia Division of Highways for a downtown streetscaping project. The cost to the city is $2 million, with the state covering the remaining portion of the $8.67 million bill.
The project includes new signals, including pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, resurfacing, sidewalks and other improvements to the area from Main and Market streets, and from 10th to 16th streets, Herron said. Later, the city will work on another agreement to streetscape the area at Ninth Street — an entryway into the city, he said.
The city will pay its $2 million through tax increment financing, a tool that allows local governments to borrow money for development projects in a defined district, on the promise they’ll repay the debt with the proceeds from future gains in property tax revenue within that district.
In a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Brian Wilson in opposition, council agreed to spend $170,980 to demolish the 94-year-old water filtration building in Warwood.
Wilson said he would like to see it repurposed, rather than demolished, and Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday said she “will hesitantly vote ‘yes,’” noting she also would prefer a different outcome.
The building would be even more likely to be repurposed had prior city councils maintained the city-owned structure, she added.
Herron gave a different take on the building, mainly that it’s to costly to improve it. In a 2004 estimate, it would have taken $700,000, he said.
“The roof is leaking; there are numerous cracks,” he said.
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