Wheeling City Leaders Debate Victorian Repair Program | News, Sports, Jobs

Wheeling City Leaders Debate Victorian Repair Program | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Eric Ayres

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, Councilman Ty Thorngate and Councilman Dave Palmer listen to discussion during a meeting of the Development Committee of Wheeling City Council.

WHEELING — Members of Wheeling City Council are considering a new program to specifically assist owners of older residences in the city who may not have been eligible for other recent home improvement assistance programs.

Council members bounced ideas around last week during a meeting of the Development Committee of Council. The proposal — listed as the Victorian Homes Improvement Program — had appeared on the city council agenda as a resolution to be approved. However, that legislation was tabled for further discussion following of the popularity of the city’s Homeowner-Occupied Repair Assistance Program — which ballooned from an estimated $200,000 venture to an investment of around $2 million from the city after hundreds of qualified homeowners applied for it.

Officials wanted to make sure those eligible for a $5,000 home improvement grant from the city — paid through Wheeling’s dwindling reservoir of federal pandemic relief money through the American Rescue Plan Act — received the money. The cut-off for applications was moved from Dec. 31 to Oct. 31 in light of the overwhelming response.

City Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis, who originally proposed the new home improvement program targeting owners of older homes and historic Victorian houses in town, said the name “Victorian” was simply thrown into his proposal since it encompasses the target residential structures the program is intended to improve. And everyone appreciates Wheeling’s array of Victorian homes, Sklavounakis said.

“The Victorian era is actually 1820 to 1915,” Wheeling Development Director Nancy Prager said.

“That’s just something I came up with sort of on the spot … we don’t need to get hung up on that. We can call it ‘older home’ or whatever,” he said, adding that a number of city residents with older homes who did not qualify for the last homeowner assistance program because their total household income was over $65,000 per year. “There’s a lot of people in our community that could benefit from the Homeowners Repair Assistance program that are not getting the benefit because they make $70,000 or $69,000. So my thought process was to try to target those people by providing them with some kind of help with fixing the same stuff that was in the program already.”

Sklavounakis said in many cases, people inherit older homes from their parents, but may not have the kind of income that allows them to keep the structures in top-notch condition.

Officials said the program’s focus on older, more historic homes would be an investment to help protect the integrity of many areas of the city if eligible homeowners take advantage of it.

“Money spent on this program would make a visible difference in neighborhoods across the community,” Elliott said, who offered several suggestions to tweak the original proposal regarding eligibility, age of the homes, a potential homeowner match and other potential requirements. “I like the spirit of the program 110{7e5ff73c23cd1cd7ac587f9048f78b3ced175b09520fe5fee10055eb3132dce7}.”

Councilman Dave Palmer, chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, raised several questions about the proposal.

“We can’t do what we did with the last program – which was a great program, but as you know, the last program was overwhelming,” Palmer said of the $2 million tab the previous program is expected to generate. “We took a good idea and a good program that’s just grown to the point that I don’t think it’s fiscally feasible – or fiscally responsible – to continue growing it any further. It’s just that we have so many other needs to take care of, I think we’re reaching outside of the realm of our services that we’re supposed to provide for the city.

“My question is – what’s the funding number and where is it coming from?”

Mayor Glenn Elliott noted that it is not believed that the Victorian home program would not be eligible for direct ARPA funding. There is a thought that such spending through a “lost revenue” category of the ARPA money pool may be qualified, but city leaders would likely have to come up with money for the program.

Officials proposed a $500,000 cap on the Victorian Home Improvement Program, with grants of up to $5,000 available for eligible homeowners.

“That’s $500,000 worth of paving that we’re not going to be able to do, or that’s $500,000 in fixing the 90-some storm grates we have sawhorses on them – we’re not going to be able to do,” Palmer said. “We’re not taking care of ourselves first and doing projects that we’re responsible to do for our citizens. I think we need to do those before we start handing out further funding.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea or that it’s a bad project, I’m just saying we need to fund our projects first. I think the program needs more discussion.”

The mayor said the ARPA funding allocations were intended to have an impact on the community to help it recover from the pandemic – although the city could have taken its entire $29.5 million ARPA allocation and put it toward nothing but sewer projects. The variety of different projects using ARPA funds will bring widespread impacts throughout the community, officials noted.

City leaders agreed that the new program should have an up-front cap on spending.

“I think this program represents a value judgment on our part that our historic homes are part of what makes Wheeling special,” Elliott said. “People who come to Wheeling and look at our neighborhoods with historic homes – it’s a selling point. I see this as something that – even though it’s helping out individual families and individuals – it’s ultimately preserving the integrity of neighborhoods that are really a key selling point for us. So I think there is a city interest here, which is on par with paving and sewers and everything else we spend money on, if it’s done right.”

Many proposed qualifications for the Victorian home improvement program were discussed, including household income maximum of $150,000. The home must be owner-occupied, and it must have been built prior to 1940 and carry an assessed value of less than $300,000. The city grant would be up to $5,000 with a required homeowner match of 20{7e5ff73c23cd1cd7ac587f9048f78b3ced175b09520fe5fee10055eb3132dce7}. Applicants cannot have received previous funding through the city’s Facade Improvement Program or the Homeowner-Occupied Repair Program. The exterior improvements must be in line with Historic Landmarks Commission guidelines, and there was a consideration that homeowners must complete downspout daylighting if it is feasible on the property.

The proposal is being referred to the city’s Historic Landmark Commission for input. A joint meeting of city council and the Historic Landmarks Commission is expected to be scheduled later in December to continue the discussion on the proposed program.

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