Buckhannon Council continues budget discussion

The Buckhannon City Council could consider implementing a new fee to residents, one that would generate about $100,000 annually to improve streets, curbs and sidewalks.

Treasurer Michael Doss has recommended the adoption of a street improvements fee. The fee would be $2 per household and business, recurring each month. It would add funds for street, sidewalk and curb improvements in the amount of $100,000 annually. Doss said it was similar to police and fire fees that already are in place within the city. He said some other municipalities have a similar fee in place, as well.

“I am only doing this because of the uncertainty with coal tax and the trend that that is going downward,” Doss said.

He addressed the anticipated decline in coal severance tax as an item that should come to the attention of council as it finalizes the budget. Doss estimates that the tax formerly brought in about $32,000 in revenue annually to the city.

“That’s just not going to happen, to be quite honest with you,” Doss said, “until the coal industry improves – if it ever improves.”

Doss said he cut the estimate in half for the revenue, and he now estimates a revenue of about $16,000.

“That’s pretty significant,” he said. “That is happening at the county level, and that is happening all over the state of West Virginia. We need to be mindful of that. We can’t depend on coal, at least for right now.”

Doss also said the city needs to be mindful of the money being generated by the business and occupation tax.

“Also the fact that now, it looks like we’re going to be watching our contractors’ B&O (tax), unless we have a large contractor project going on to subsidize the money we lost from our coal tax. There’s nothing I can do about that. That’s market-driven.”

The money collected from contractors usually is used to assist with capital and street paving projects.

“The money that we’re collecting from contractors and predicting in the next fiscal year will probably end up subsidizing what we would have got in coal tax money,” Doss said. “So, we start back at zero, essentially.”

Doss and Mayor Kenneth Davidson suggested dissolving the consolidated public works board. Davidson said he was suggesting it in favor of activating the cemetery board.

Davidson said the city’s cemetery doesn’t pay for itself. The fees charged for the sales of cemetery lots, placing markers and digging graves are deposited into the consolidated public works board funds.

“Most of the functions of the consolidated public works board, they deal with the cemetery, parking issues and city park issues,” Davidson said, adding that parking fees and pavilion rentals also are deposited into those funds, but the cemetery hasn’t sustained itself for the last couple years.

Davidson said eventually, all the cemetery lots would be sold and filled, and the city still will have the responsibility of maintaining the property.

The cemetery board is already “on the books” for Buckhannon and would only need to be activated.

In other budget news, Councilman Scott Preston recommended providing some financial assistance to the Upshur County Senior Center for their transportation system.

Doss said there was a decrease of $368,654 in the budget as some grant projects come to completion. There would be a $600 salary increase for full-time employees who are not department heads. He said he anticipates a 10 percent increase in health insurance expenditures because of new federal regulations and anticipated claims. A 0.5 percent increase in retirement also was factored in.

“Revenues are not increasing at the rate of expenditures,” Doss said, adding that he expects revenues and expenditures to intersect in about three to five years. “It is in our interest to support economic development.”

Doss said revenues were not going down, but they remain stagnant. He said $25,000 was placed into economic development. Because of the $135,000 needed to complete the Public Safety Complex, Doss does not have any additional funds for the upcoming fiscal year to be placed into the “rainy day” fund.

He also calculated many slight increases and decreases in funds for various line items, and no changes to many others, based on expenditures. Among the decreases listed in the budget is a $5,000 decrease in snow removal monies. Doss said the past winter was not a bad winter, and the city was able to stockpile some materials. He doesn’t anticipate those funds will be necessary next year.

“We’ve been looking pretty good at about $25,000 for that,” Doss said.

There was an increase of $3,000 for street lighting to cover the cost of additional lighting and maintenance on Gateway East.

The budget is expected to be adopted at the 7 p.m. Thursday meeting of the City Council.