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Weston council gives initial OKto change city charter

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

WESTON -- City Council gave an initial nod Monday to a massive overhaul of the city charter. Members also implemented an economic development authority.

"It's a format to create a new government," Mayor Jon Tucci said of a sweeping plan he developed with a citizen group that included former election opponent John Williams.

The revisions to the 1913 charter would primarily change Weston to a city-manager form of government similar to that found in such communities as Clarksburg, Grafton and Salem, Tucci said.

"We're trying to save the people some money," he said of what he believes will lead to more efficient purchasing and business conduct. "You'll have a day-to-day chief executive officer in the city building."

The part-time mayor estimates the addition of a city manager, assistant city manager and a city engineer would cost between $100,000 and $125,000 per year, however.

He said those costs and the $5,000 per month needed to fund the economic development authority would be covered through existing business and occupation taxes and street/fire taxes.

The taxes, enacted in 1999, bring about $700,000 per year into the city budget. Also, the city is planning to annex areas, including land around the Weston Wal-Mart, increasing the tax base geographically, Tucci said.

"This new government would not cause a tax increase," he said.

Other charter changes would:

-- change mayoral and city council terms from two to four years.

-- make the city clerk, street commissioner and police chief appointed, rather than elected, positions.

The changes would not take effect until July 2003, when current election terms expire. Tucci said a city manager could be hired by summer 2002, however.

Councilman Paul Taylor, one of four unanimous votes for the measure, said the changes were needed for the city's future.

The plan must pass two other readings -- the next at 6 p.m. on Jan. 7 at the Lewis County Senior Center -- to go into effect.

Development concerns

Tucci said the implementation of a city economic development authority is closely related to the charter change.

"We're right in the center of major, major traffic ... We're trying to prepare for the future," he said. "We expect a lot of things to be happening in our city in the next 10 years.

He sees the authority's first job as revitalizing the former Weston Hospital, of which the city is pursuing ownership.

Frank Moots, former Upshur County development director, is the new authority's chief consultant, Tucci said. There is also a 16-member board that represents business, education, government and health interests.

"It's not only me," he said of the charter and development changes. "It's a whole lot of people."

Building such a coalition could ultimately be important to the projects' future as Tucci remains in a fight to keep his office.

Although Tucci has been ahead by one to six votes since a June election, challenger Terry Cogar recently appealed to the state Supreme Court. As of Tuesday, the high court had not listed the case on its docket.

Tucci said he feels comfortable pursuing changes promised in his campaign platform in spite of the pending challenge.

"As far as I'm concerned, I was the people's choice. I never was behind in the vote."

Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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