Chester workers get first raise in four years

CHESTER – For the first time in four years, city employees will get raises.

City Council approved the raises on Monday – $100 a month for the 10 full-time employees and 50 cents an hour for the three part-time employees. Councilman Steve Shuman abstained because he works for the city as street superintendent.

“Neither option’s going to be what they deserve, but it’s all we can afford,” Councilman Brian Handley said of the two raise proposals built into the new budget. “I wish it could be more.”

Council also approved $100-a-month raises for City Council members, the mayor and the city clerk. The raises will go into effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, for officials who win election or re-election in the June 10 municipal election.

The employee raises will mean an additional expenditure of $19,480 a year for the city budget, said Clerk Sandra Parkins, who has until July 1 to make revisions to the 2014-15 budget. Cities and counties must submit budgets to the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office by March 31 and then estimate their revenues for the final three months of the fiscal year.

The salary vote came during Monday’s meeting in which council members, Mayor Ken Morris and audience members discussed the city’s economic outlook.

“I believe we need to do something with this budget to stop the revolving door (of employees),” Morris said.

Handley, who is running for re-election in the 4th Ward, said the city budget was nearly $1 million when he first took office eight years ago. Now it’s $747,349 and dropping, he said.

“We’ve got to do something, folks. We need to promote the city to get businesses and families to come to town,” Handley said. “We can’t do anything without revenue.”

Handley bemoaned the city’s decaying infrastructure, lack of competitive wages and “farm system” for police officers. “We recruit ’em, we hire ’em, we train ’em-then we lose ’em,” he said.

Reiterating a theme from the last two months, Handley said council’s decision to join the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle was a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done to spur economic development in West Virginia’s northernmost city, he said.

Chester joined the BDC in March following a motion by Handley. Although the BDC was instrumental in the cleanup and demolition of the old Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery in 2012, Chester business owner Mary Lawrence accused city officials on Monday of being bystanders during the process.

Lawrence, proprietor of River Island Collectibles, 448 Carolina Ave., served on the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee, a community task force that oversaw the TS&T reclamation project. The BDC now owns the property but has not yet found a buyer – a fact that continues to frustrate city officials.

Morris said the “white elephant” in the discussion about TS&T was the obstacle posed by Chaney’s Service Station, which sits between Carolina Avenue and the TS&T site. “That place’ll never sell until there is a proper ingress and egress,” Morris said.

Lawrence said it was her understanding that the BDC had reached a right-of-way agreement with Chaney’s.

“I’m just a small-town mayor. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did,” Morris said.

In a related matter, council appointed Assistant City Clerk Carol Farish as the city’s representative to the BDC.

In other business, council:

Passed a motion asking for the resignation of Ron Miller from the Chester Water Board. Miller, along with Gary Stevens and Rusty Smith were reappointed to the board in March, but Miller cannot serve because he does not live in the city, Morris said, citing the city charter.

Council members praised Miller’s service on the water board over the past three years. The vote was 3-2, with Councilmen John Woodruff and Dennis Murray voting against the resignation request.

Learned new Patrolman Brent Bergman will leave for the West Virginia State Police Academy on Monday. He will be there for 16 weeks.

“Come back and stay for awhile,” Morris told Bergman at the end of the meeting.