Council's Republican Chair Lends Support to Williams, Still Likes Wolfe Personally; Fiscal Expertise Swayed Bates

Updated 6 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Mark Bates
Mark Bates

As a new member of Huntington City Council when elected in 2008, Mark Bates took an oath to make the city’s tough decisions.  The city faced a deepening police and fire pension crisis, which if not modified could consume a majority of the city’s resources, along with other legacy issues.  The future would bring the worst global recession since the great depression, the State of WV changing actuaries in mid-stream, and a critical impending budget deficit.

“I like Mayor Wolfe, he’s a nice guy, he’s a member of my party,” council chairman Bates said.  “I went along with the [administration’s]  $1.00 user fee increase, but not until we vetted it [eliminating] a laundry list of things. You have to use it on street paving and police protection. We increased the number of police officers  they proposed, we increased the dollars they proposed for paving, and we continue to do that every year,” Bates continued.  

When the administration proposed a $2 user fee increase as the only way to balance the city’s budget, “Steve [Williams], members of the Finance Committee, council leadership and myself worked  together. We fully staffed the police and fire departments, and we did not raise fees. We balanced the budget. Williams was instrumental in doing that. Through his leadership, he brought all the parties on council together, we fixed the problem.”

Bates “backed away” from the administration when the budget deficit occurred. “I felt they knew there was a coming problem, they buried their head in the sand and didn’t act or ask for help soon enough.” The deficit which had to be balanced by June 30, 2012 was made public during a Finance Committee meeting.

“Had we tackled the problem earlier, the municipal service fee surcharge may not have happened,” Bates said.  “We had minimal resources in which to do that. Working with Steve, the Finance Committee, members of council and myself, we went through the budget looking at furloughs and cutbacks , not filling positions . ..we did everything we could do with what was left in the budget. After we totally exhausted all cuts, we figured what the surcharge would have to be. The mayor proposed a permanent increase, we said, no, sunset it June 30, 2012, so the burden would not stay on businesses and property owners of the city.

That was the point when I recognized that the true leadership this city needs was sitting in the room with me. “You gotta run for mayor,” Bates told Williams. And, it was not an easy decision for the former Marshall University football player. “He fought with it,” Bates recalled.

Republicans for Williams is “an official part of his campaign,” Bates stated. “We’re extending out to business, labor and across the aisle to us Republicans. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him for four years and when I became chairman (of council) I knew of his importance to the leadership of the Finance Committee and working with all members of council.”

Bates admits that though he supports Williams, they do not always agree on the issues. “If you look at the records, nothing personal, it was about what each felt was best. We’re not always going to be on the same side.”

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