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Council approves pay raises for mayor, themselves

HUNTINGTON — Huntington City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance Monday night raising the salaries for their positions and the mayor in 2021.

By a vote of 11-0, council members approved raising the mayor position’s annual salary from $85,000 to $114,500 beginning in 2021. They also approved a 6% pay increase for future city council members in 2021. Council members currently make up to $7,200 a year.

The pay increases will not take effect until after next year’s municipal election. Council members are required to address compensation for the mayor and City Council by ordinance every four years, said City Attorney Scott Damron.

Damron said previously that now was the appropriate time to address salaries before candidates begin filing in January for the 2020 election.

Council members said previously they wanted to ensure the mayor position was the highest-paid position in city government. They also wanted the mayor’s pay to be comparable to mayors from cities like Charleston. The city manager position makes $94,884 annually and the mayor of Charleston makes $125,000. The mayor’s salary, they said, was too low when compared to a CEO of a company with a budget similar ro the city governments.

Council Chairman Mark Bates said previously he thought a 6% cost-of-living increase for council members was the most fair way to go about council raises. Council members’ salaries have not increased in several years, despite the cost of living going up.

Before voting, one resident spoke in opposition to raising the mayor’s position, arguing the $29,500 difference could be spent on something else. David “Alligator” Jackson said the average median Huntington household does not make more than $28,000.

“That means you are giving the mayor position a bigger raise than some families he supposedly works for are making,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who runs the Inside Huntington Facebook page, said he’s received many comments from people opposed to the increase. He said he’s in favor of Williams, but fears the increase will attract future candidates only interested in money.

“You bring a new guy in here and you are going to pay him that much more than what you pay everybody else,” he said. “Hey, I don’t want a mayor that’s doing it for money.”

The last time the mayor’s salary increased was in 2016. The mayor previously made $75,000, which was increased by $10,000 after council members supported an amendment to increase it.

Huntington’s next City Council meeting in November has been moved to Tuesday, Nov. 12, because of Veteran’s Day.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

Development in downtown Huntington continues with building remodel

HUNTINGTON — After transforming what was a couple of empty buildings on 3rd Avenue in downtown Huntington into “The Market,” Capital Venture Corp.’s latest venture is taking place at the building on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and 8th Street.

“We are in the early stages of a total renovation of the building at 801 4th Ave. that sits across from the Cabell County Courthouse,” said Phil Nelson, a partner along with Jim Weiler in Capital Venture Corp.

Nelson says they purchased the building about two years ago. The building is perhaps best known in recent years for housing “Windows,” a project that placed colorful murals in the boarded upper story windows of the building. It also housed the Cabell County Day Report Center at one time.

“It’s been neglected, but our goal is to restore it to its original beauty,” he said.

Nelson said the company is using West Virginia’s Historic Tax Credit with this renovation project to help with the development costs.

Construction crews already have removed exterior windows and removed stone and wood façade enhancements covering the building’s original brick exterior.

“We have demoed all of the floors and extensive work is currently going on inside the building,” Nelson said. “We are finding some wonderful architectural features, like an 18-foot tin ceiling on the first floor.”

The building has four floors with 7,000 square feet of space on each floor, and Nelson said they already have several potential tenants lined up to move in once the project is complete.

“We have several interested parties there, some with ties to The Market in terms of market-related products and some new additions to downtown,” Nelson said. “We are currently in negotiations and leases should be signed in the next couple months.”

Nelson said he cannot name any of the potential tenants until the leases are signed, but indicated that it will probably have residential space on the top floor and the upper floors can be office type operations, while the first floor would be a retail component.

“We are very excited about this project and hope to have it completed and new tenants by the spring or summer of 2020,” he said.

The state’s historic credit became a more valuable tool for developers after 2017, when the West Virginia House and Senate passed House Bill 203, which increased the state Historic Tax Credit from 10% to 25%. The Legislature passed the legislation with overwhelming support in both houses.

A coalition including the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, Abandoned Properties Coalition, US Green Building Council, WV Chapter, WV Community Development Hub, Wheeling Heritage, private developers, citizens, and municipalities created the Revitalize West Virginia Downtown Coalition. The coalition developed a plan to increase the state historic tax credit to aid in economic development of the state and educate legislators on the importance of the historic rehabilitation tax credit.

The 25% credit brings West Virginia to parity with neighboring states. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have a 25% state historic tax credit; Maryland and Kentucky have a 20% tax credit. The increase was to encourage the rehabilitation of historic buildings and spur private investment, create jobs and help rid the state of vacant and underutilized buildings.

Studies have shown that the estimated return on the state’s investment is approximately two to one, meaning for every dollar of tax credit provided by the state two dollars of additional state taxes and revenue will be created through investments.

Nelson said Capital Venture’s latest project is part of the continued revitalization efforts going on in downtown Huntington.

“This whole downtown corridor of the business improvement district — it has to have retail draws to get people downtown and to keep people downtown,” he said. “We have so many great shops and boutiques throughout the rest of downtown.”

Nelson said this project will transform another major corner in downtown Huntington.

“We think that is such a landmark corner when you come into town, and it needs to contribute to that,” he said. “We weren’t really looking to expand but that building is such an eyesore and those upper floors have been vacant or just storage for years. The Day Report Center was there and they needed improvement, so they moved over to 6th Avenue and now this gives us a great opportunity to resurrect that corner.”

Nelson said he and Weiler are proud to be a part of what they feel is a new chapter in Huntington’s history — a rebirth happening thanks to a lot of cooperation among many players.

“We couldn’t be happier with the cooperation we get from our city, our county and our state representatives,” he said. “We have a lot of interaction with people who are willing to help and who are so proud of our community and what the citizens have done in here in terms of making this a spot. We are a firm believer that downtown Huntington has turned the corner and that it is an amazing destination. The world needs to know what we have here.

“Huntington is rediscovering itself and we are just proud to be a part of that.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Heavy, chilly rain and wind forecast for Halloween night

HUNTINGTON — Plan to add an umbrella to your Halloween costume Thursday, if you’re going out at all.

The National Weather Service is calling for up to 3 inches of rain between Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning, with the bulk expected to hit the Tri-State early Thursday night — during nearly every established local trick-or-treat time. The rainfall is predicted to remain steady through the night at a rate of 0.2 of an inch per hour until 10 p.m. Thursday, slowing to a trickle by Friday morning.

“It really doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to wait it out,” said John Peck, an NWS meteorologist in Charleston.

Rain isn’t the only factor to consider for a potentially soggy, chilly Halloween night, the NWS warns. Winds are expected to pick up with the rain Thursday afternoon, with gusts from 30 mph to 45 mph likely. The combination of heavy rain and windblown leaves may trigger localized flooding with clogged drainage, but Peck said no widespread flooding is expected.

Overnight low temperatures are expected to fall to 38 degrees following the rain Thursday — a dramatic departure from the high of low 70s that afternoon as the cold front moves in.

As of press time Monday, none of the local municipalities have altered their trick-or-treat plans for Thursday.

The cold front moving in Thursday evening also is expected to usher in the Tri-State’s first frost of the season when the rain passes Friday, with morning temperatures hovering around 32 degrees. The afternoon high Friday is a projected 51 degrees.

It sets the stage for a chilly weekend ahead, with frost expected both Saturday and Sunday morning as well. Afternoon highs both days are expected to be in the low 50s.

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