In his State of the City address Tuesday, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie outlined significant and necessary advancements the city has made and stressed the importance of keeping Wheeling moving forward.
In the past year, McKenzie stated that city officials have made dramatic and substantial changes to how the city government operates.
“We did reduce our workforce across all departments; we realigned operations in our city; we decreased the Business and Occupation Tax,” he said.
Another important change mentioned in the address was how the city is working to fix the pension problem for police officers and firefighters. The city will now be allocating $6 million into pensions under a new plan, which will look to save Wheeling millions of dollars over the next 35 years, McKenzie said.
“For the first time in 30 years, we can assure our police officers and firefighters that they will have a pension when they retire,” he said. “Due to the fact that we did make the pension adjustments under Vice Mayor Fahey’s leadership, the city can truly move forward with long-term plans.”
In regards to energy production, the challenge McKenzie posed was how to grow long-term employment opportunities in Wheeling. Studies show that production of shale and oil could create up to 1.7 million new jobs nationally. Many of those jobs are in the Ohio Valley.
“I believe we must continue to create an environment where companies want to invest and locate their offices and operation centers. It’s possible to create a new opportunity for Wheeling to be the center of this industry moving forward.”
Current public and private projects, like the $1 million Market Plaza renovation and the Heritage Park and Sculpture Garden on 11th & Main Streets, also found their way into the mayor’s speech, specifically noting that these projects show a Wheeling looking to take from its past, to grow its future.
Shifting the focus up river, the mayor went on to say how new technology is playing a role in not only revitalizing Wheeling, but keeping its residents safe.
“The new $31 million water treatment plant will soon be completed, on budget and earlier than planned. The facility has the newest technology available to ensure the water you drink is safe and clean.”
Other opportunities may also exist for Wheeling as new investors take an interest in the downtown area. While he was not at liberty to disclose any details at this point, McKenzie did say there are several substantial opportunities in the works and to keep eyes on Downtown Wheeling in 2015.
In his closing remarks, McKenzie stressed that he believed in the people of Wheeling and that each of us must embrace change.
“For the first time in a long time, I believe our community is ready to embrace change. I’m already looking forward to what I’ll have to report in next year’s address.”