photo by: Eric Ayres/File
WHEELING – Officials in the city of Wheeling are taking steps toward implementing another new home improvement program, despite initial plans to further discuss financing for the proposal and logistics of determining its criteria.
A Victorian Homes Improvement Program originally had been proposed by Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis. The proposal made the city council’s agenda last month, but the measure was tabled after the city’s previous program – the Homeowner-Occupied Repair Assistance Program – received such an overwhelming response, city leaders had to cut off the application window to just a few weeks. Officials also had to bolster the funds for the program from around $200,000 to $2 million.
City council last week approved the $2 million boost to the previous program in order to fund the hundreds home improvement projects from eligible applicants. The previous program utilized the dwindling pool of the city’s federal pandemic relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act to the tune of up to $5,000 per project.
The Victorian Homes Improvement Project is designed to be similar to the previous program, but extend to homeowners whose income eligibility prohibited participation. The newly proposed program seeks to help owners of older homes in the city invest in improvements, but the income eligibility would be increased to $150,000 per household.
This would make the program ineligible for direct use of ARPA funds, officials indicated. The question regarding the funding source of such a program raised concerns during the Development Committee meeting. Implementation of the program also raised questions, and officials decided to hold a joint session with members of the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission for their input.
However, the tabled resolution was unexpectedly moved back to the floor by Sklavounakis last week, and it was seemingly pushed forward despite the fact that the joint meeting had not taken place yet.
“We had hoped to maybe set up a joint meeting with the Historic Landmarks Commission to discuss this before this program is actually put into motion,” Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said.
Council members seemed puzzled over how to procedurally address the issue, with Sklavounakis moving to take the legislation off of the table and vote to approve it.
“The way I read it, it’s very broad,” said Sklavounakis, an attorney by trade. “I don’t think that if this would pass, it wouldn’t affect anything that we’ve already had in motion. I think the majority of city council members have already agreed that this is a good program, and we’ve been working to get it done. I don’t see why we don’t just pass this very broad resolution so we can vote and send a message to the community that we’re all on board and this is what we’re going to do.”
City manager Robert Herron noted that implementation of the program would require another budget revision for the city. City leaders have not yet finalized the process for which eligibility will be determined, nor have they cited a specific funding source.
Officials decided to “not delay the inevitable” and brought the proposal back to the floor during last week’s city council meeting. A majority of members voted to adopt the resolution.
Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, voted against removing the legislation from the table and against approving the resolution. Palmer indicated during the recent Development Committee of Council meeting that he supported the spirit of the program, but expressed concerns over funding the program – which is not ARPA eligible, particularly in light of other city needs.
The mayor said he still intends for the city to meet with the Historic Landmarks Commission to further discuss the way that money is allocated for the program, which is expected to require a 20% match from each participating homeowner and have a total program cap of $500,000.