MORGANTOWN — A write-in candidate could win a seat on Morgantown City Council thanks to a unique situation in the 3rd Ward race.
Sitting councilor Ryan Wallace announced late last month that he did not intend to serve another term as he and his family are moving once the current term of council ends.
Even so, Wallace is unopposed in the April 30 election and was not able to remove his name from the ballot so close to Election Day.
If Wallace wins, he’ll be forced to resign the seat, which would then be filled through appointment by a majority of the other six council members.
In an effort to avoid this, Wallace has endorsed Richard Dumas, who along with Zack Cruze have thrown their names in the running as write-in candidates.
Write-in candidates have until the end of the day today to register ahead of early voting, which begins tomorrow.
The Dominion Post reached out to Cruze and Dumas to get their thoughts on some of the noteworthy issues coming up on council’s docket.
In January, the city received a financial analysis looking at potential annexation targets totaling just over three square miles.
City Manager Paul Brake said the city will likely take up the issue as early as next month.
Dumas said he’s in favor of annexation as long as it is beneficial to both the city and the community.
“In looking to annexation as a means of growth, you need to ensure that there is benefit to those who are coming into the city — lower home owners insurance cost due to improved fire protection or better and more efficient police protection while at the same time insuring that the cost to the city does not exceed the increased revenue,” Dumas said.
He went on to say that the city should consider bringing in undeveloped land as a vehicle for future growth.
For Cruze, annexation is about getting buy-in from those already benefiting from the city.
“The property management companies of these large apartment buildings, low-income housing units and concentrations of rental properties benefit through a close association to services the city provides without paying their fair share of the cost associated with those services,” Cruze said, noting residents of these properties don’t have access to city services or elections despite being, in some instances, across the street from the city boundary.
Municipal sales tax
The city gained the ability to implement a 1 percent sales tax through Home Rule in 2014, though it has yet to do so, until now.
It is anticipated that the issue will come before council next month, with the estimated $5 million to $6 million in revenue going toward capital improvements for BOPARC and police and fire pensions.
Cruze said BOPARC has far more property to manage today than when it was founded in 1981, but two fewer full-time employees.
“These 16 individuals manage more than 50 miles of rail-trails, and more than 20 parks, facilities and structures. The average age of these facilities and structures is almost 40-years old,” Cruze said, adding “I am fully in favor of using the municipal sales tax to provide our residents community recreation facilities and green spaces that will benefit all ages.”
Dumas said he also supports the sales tax, but only if it comes with the elimination of the city’s $3 weekly user fee for those working inside city limits.
“A flat fee ‘tax’ such as the user fee is very regressive and as such has a much larger impact on those working in low wage or part-time employment,” Dumas said.
“With targeted use the sales tax could be used to maintain the city’s projects that are funded with the user fee, help reduce the unfunded liability for the city employee retirement and increase the funding for BOPARC to meet some of their deferred maintenance issues and improve their facilities.”
Dumas said the city has been lax in addressing large discrepancies in the populations of its seven wards, noting some wards have as few as 2,500 people while others exceed 6,000.
“When you have one council person serving over 6,000 constituents and another serving 2,500 you do not have equal representation,” Dumas said.
Dumas’ husband, Roger Banks, is a member of the city’s Ward & Boundary Commission and has filed suit in an attempt to get the city to address the variation in ward populations.
As for Cruze, he said he would like to focus on greater engagement between council and the larger community, including during the budgeting process.
“Participatory budgeting brings citizens, communities and municipal representatives together in collaborative conversations to discuss how small portions of city budgets can be best allocated,” Cruze said, citing similar efforts in New York City. “We need to be finding ways to bring the public into how the city is run and actively looking for ways for greater community involvement.”
Information on how to vote for a write-in candidate can be found on the city’s website at: http://morgantownwv.gov/530/How-Do-I-Vote-For-a-Write-In-Candidate