Despite all the negativity that has swirled around Clarksburg's declining population, its disappearing central business district and the numerous budgetary woes, it is our view that there are still plenty of positives to keep the city afloat. We have had the opportunity to study the various aspects of the city's plight with the ongoing series by staff writer Shawn Gainer these past few days.
Criticism of discord in the last several city councils, deteriorating neighborhoods and lack of incentives to keep downtown businesses downtown have all but overshadowed the improvements that have been made and are continuing to be made in Clarksburg, namely the development of Eastpointe and Newpointe, the building and presence of the FBI fingerprint identification center and the Glen Elk neighborhood restoration.
Clarksburgers -- whether city officials themselves or its residents who are concerned with the betterment of their city -- must be of an open, unified mind in pushing for improvements. In fact, they must be downright aggressive, drawing upon every resource available to reach new goals and not merely to be satisfied with the status quo.
The infrastructure of Clarksburg provides the promise of potential to the city -- a strong transit authority, the foresight of officials to acquire and develop prime property at Eastpointe and Newpointe, a quality system of providing utility service to residents and businesses and, of course, the advantage of being at a major crossroads of modern highways -- Interstate 79 and U.S. Route 50. So we are not in the position of having to start from "scratch."
What it is definitely going to be required to reach -- in fact, surpass -- the goals that we all set together is something that cannot be measured in square feet or dollars and cents. It is a positive attitude. From everybody. It will not be enough for city hall to sit back and rely on the residents of Clarksburg to pull off such a feat, not any more than for residents to expect only the city officials to do it.
While appreciating the accomplishments that have been made, our first priority must be to define the exact problems that exist and outline our plan of attack. No stone can remain unturned to remove an obstacle to progress. No "sacred cows," that could benefit some but harm others, must be permitted to live on and on, unchecked.
Citing downtown Clarksburg, in order to make our businesses customer-friendly, we must make our municipal government business-friendly. City taxes and fees cannot be allowed to continue hurting businesses. City Manager Tom Vidovich has stated that most cities in the state have their business and occupation taxes set at the maximum because they have few options for funding their operating expenses.
City government must be responsive to business owners' concerns. One of the most often-heard complaints we hear -- and indeed experience ourselves -- is the harassment on the downtown parking situation. Whether the spaces are for downtown employees or for customers should matter little. There are still some nearly vacant lots in the heart of downtown that, with a more universal community spirit, could be used to provide parking spaces for everyone, if not used for something even more productive.
Jeffery Rhodes -- he is director of community development for the city of Cumberland, Md., and former city manager of Grafton -- provided, we believe, some valuable insight in one of the stories in the series on Clarksburg's vision. In comparing Cumberland with Clarksburg, Rhodes said his city, like Clarksburg, has offered tax incentives to prospective businesses and has enacted a removal program for blighted properties.
Other efforts he mentioned include "a tax incentive program for home-based businesses, marketing downtown building space to artists and craftsmen, and generally marketing the city as a good place to live and do business."
But Rhodes cited an important difference. He said he believes economic development efforts are making the difference in Cumberland, but stressed that such efforts are easier in Maryland than in West Virginia cities. "In Maryland ... local officials have much more latitude in decision-making. Maryland is a home-rule state," where "cities can even set their own tax and utility rates. West Virginia is a heavily-regulated state. People on the local level just don't have enough say in what they're dealing with."
To our way of thinking, if city officials, merchants and residents are as willing to constructively work on eliminating Clarksburg's problems as they are to enjoy the achievements, we are well on our way to a greater city.
Today's editorial reflects the opinion of both the Exponent and Telegram editorial boards.