Buckhannon mayor proposes employee raises

BUCKHANNON — Mayor David McCauley will propose a 50-cent pay raise for full-time city employees in the 2019-2020 budget for the City of Buckhannon.

McCauley alluded to the proposal during his annual state of the city remarks he delivered during Thursday’s Buckhannon City Council meeting. Council last approved a 50-cent per hour pay raise for all full-time employees in October 2016.

“I ask us to work together, this city council and our utility boards, to find the means to implement an additional, modest cost of living increase effective during 2019 of an additional 50 cents an hour for all of our full-time employees,” McCauley said.

“Our success as a city is attributed to our folks in the trenches who are repairing broken utility lines at 3 a.m. when it’s below zero, our first responders who answer the police and fire calls at all hours and under the most unpleasant of circumstances, our workers who are hanging off of the back of our garbage trucks whether it’s zero or 95 degrees. We need to recognize the value of those labors and we need to retain and express our collective appreciation for our very valuable work force.”

The state of the city address outlined highlights of each of the departments including some needs.

“The Buckhannon Fire Department needs a new rescue/pumper truck soon and the council needs to prepare for helping them purchase that new vehicle in 2019,” McCauley said. “This vehicle will permit us to retire two or three 1990s vehicles from our fire fleet. We anticipate partnering with the county commission and our volunteers to realize the necessary funds, but this new, fully equipped vehicle is expected to cost about $500,000.”

Buckhannon fire chief J.B. Kimble noted during the meeting that the fire department responded to 1,248 calls for service.

“That is a record, well above what our previous record was,” Kimble.

Kimble also told council he would be working with grant writer and information coordinator Callie Cronin Sams to apply for a SAFER grant that would fund a new firefighter position.

McCauley’s state of the city address also alluded to a possible rate increase for waste collection to be proposed.

“As I reported last year, in combination with our streets and parks department, we very soon need to realize construction of a new welding garage and tool building at our Mud Lick Run facility,” the mayor said. “[Director of public works] Jerry Arnold will share details in the months ahead, but we know that there will be a cost association of several hundred thousand dollars with that project that will be shared by waste collection and our general fund.

“We need to continue to invest in and be good stewards of the physical plants of all of our facilities. I note that there has not been a rate increase in waste collections here since 2011, and in this age to see the rates of any service remain the same for eight years is almost unheard of.”

In 2018, the new Victoria Hill water tank was brought online and McCauley said the water storage system now has more potable water than ever before. Next up will be the decommissioning of the St. Joseph’s tank.

“The increase in our reserve water supply is all part of the anticipated, future growth in our community associated with the ever nearing completion of Corridor H,” McCauley said.

Over $2 million worth of improvements to the city’s water distribution system was borne entirely by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project due to a cooperative arrangement with Dominion Resources and the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project.

“These improvements would have been undertaken in the future in-house with the cost borne by our residents and businesses, so completion of this project pushed us years ahead as our waterworks distribution system has been greatly enhanced without having to increase fees,” McCauley said.

Meanwhile, work done to the city’s Harley A. Brown Water Plant may not have the longevity that was predicted, according to McCauley.

“The water plant work completed in 2018 was beneficial but at the same time problematic,” he said. “When I was coming aboard as mayor nearly three years ago, the rhetoric about the $2 million worth of improvements to our plant suggested we would add decades of service to our plant and thus we were deferring tens of millions of dollars in plant replacement costs for many, many years. Now, our current consulting engineers are suggesting our water plant has another decade or so of life expectancy. We’re flummoxed about this evaluation and our water board and city administration will work hard to better evaluate the status of our current plant during 2019.”

McCauley said the city will work closely with Adrian Public Service District to realize additional improvements to the southern portion of the city’s water distribution system.

“We will continue to insist that all of the outlying public service districts improve their maintenance programs with their own systems to minimize the potable water that ends up being dumped on the ground,” the mayor said. “The leakage rates of some of the PSDs is untenable and we must all work to being better stewards of our precious water.”

There are a number of paving and sidewalks projects planned including near the city seal mural, Kanawha Street, Spring Street and Florida Street.

The city of Buckhannon has received a $213,623 Gateway West grant award to extend ADA-accessible sidewalks westward along Main Street to near the underpass with Route 33.

“The Gateway West project will start in the spring and soon there will be an amazing mile of new sidewalk, period lighting, holiday banners and complete streets from the first Buckhannon exit all the way to our college campus,” McCauley said.

Work will also continue on restoring the Colonial Theatre on Main Street and improving Traders Alley and Milkman Lane.

The city will continue fundraising for a new gym for Stockert Youth and Community Center and McCauley said officials are planning to break ground on the project sometime this year. SYCC is celebrating 25 years in 2019.