Parkersburg Council says yes to user fee

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A user fee for anyone who works in the town.



PARKERSBURG - After months of debate the user fee will go into effect.

With about 45 people attending Tuesday's Parkersburg City Council meeting, including many city employees and members of the Parkersburg Tea Party, council members narrowly approved the proposed $2.50-a-week user fee by a 5-4 vote.

Council members Nancy Wilcox, Sharon Lynch, Tom Joyce, John Rockhold and Jim Reed voted in favor of the user fee. Council members Brad Kimes, John Sandy, Sharyn Tallman and Mike Reynolds voted against it.

The vote ends months of debate and meetings by council on the fee. A vote longtime City Clerk Connie Shaffer said was the biggest she has seen during time as clerk.

Newell, in his short address to council, said the decision facing council was a heavy one with far-reaching implications.

More than a dozen people spoke during the public forum and hearing on the fee, almost all of whom voiced resistance. Many of the speakers were members of the Tea Party, sporting "Keep your hands out of my pocket, Bob" T-shirts.

Several renewed their threats against council and mayor to initiate a recall on those who voted in favor of the fee.

Jim Ball, a former city councilman, spoke in favor of the fee and encouraged council not to be "bullied or intimidated by the threat of a recall."

After the meeting, Ball said while many at the meeting spoke against the fee, many residents understand the city's needs. He thinks there is only a small percentage of the city population that supports the Tea Party, pointing to weak attendance at its meetings.

"If this special interest group really has an issue with $2.50, it is nothing compared to the high cost of gasoline which affects this city, the county, the state and the federal government. ... This is nothing, less than a gallon of gas," Ball said.

The proposed $2.50-a-week fee will cost anyone who works in or is employed by a company within the city limits $130 a year.

Officials estimate there are about 22,500 workers in the city and the fee will generate about $2.5 million. The fee would go into effect around the first of March.

Money from the fee is to be dedicated to police and fire protection, flood protection, traffic and street maintenance and public works projects related to the fee.

Many of those who spoke against the fee said it will run employers and employees out of the city. Don Seabolt said many businesses and residents he talked to have discussed leaving the city, including a secession movement on the southside of town.

"A recall will be in effect," he said. "We will not be strong-armed by the mayor. We will go forward."

Newell said those railing against the fee are "failing to do their homework on the issue."

Tea Party President Sandy Staats said the group will meet and await word from city officials as to how to proceed with recall proceedings. Shaffer and City Attorney Joe Santer were reviewing the city charter as to how a recall would proceed.

As city officials work on the proposed 2011-2012 budget, Newell said the city will continue to make cuts. He has previously pledged to freeze longevity pay and increase city employees' health insurance contributions.
 
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