Cut Wheeling employee salary, benefit costs

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling municipal government needs more of the “right-sizing” Mayor Andy McKenzie urged when he took office more than six years ago. Especially in costs for city employees, municipal spending continues to grow faster than the incomes of most taxpayers who fund it.

Some changes have been made in McKenzie’s campaign to reduce spending. But as a story we reported a few days ago makes clear, the initiative needs to accelerate.

During the past five years, the city’s budget has increased by about 5 percent, our reporter learned. At the same time, personnel costs have gone up much faster.

Spending on retirement benefits has increased 21 percent during the five-year period. Health care expenses have gone up 9 percent. Salaries and other benefits cost about 8 percent more than five years ago. Obviously, if spending were to be shown on a pie chart, the portion devoted to employees would have grown much – while that for other expenses would have slimmed down.

Meanwhile, the city’s population continues to dwindle. The most recent estimate by the Census Bureau was that Wheeling had 28,009 residents last year, compared to 28,486 in 2010. Fewer people are paying more for city services.

Pension costs, especially for police officers and firefighters, are an ongoing, growing headache for city officials. Something needs to be done to get them under control.

Health insurance expenditures are unlikely to go down. If anything, the federal Obamacare law probably will force them higher.

It appears the only way of putting a dent in personnel spending is to reduce the budgeted number of city employees – about 390 at last count.

City Manager Robert Herron proposed a plan to do just that months ago. City Council has yet to put its stamp of approval on the strategy. Council members’ fiscal responsibility to Wheeling taxpayers requires that Herron’s plan – and perhaps a strategy going even farther – be adopted. Otherwise, “right-sizing” will fall into the category of one more unfulfilled political pledge.

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