Sales tax, strategic plan

Unfortunately there is a persistent story in some minds and media that the city of Elkins’ has no plan, or even worse some devious intentions, for the additional revenues beginning to generate from the penny sales tax. Paradoxically, the use of these monies and what good they will bring to the city is a topic of constant conversation inside City Hall. So, how do we bridge this gap? Through open, informed and effective communication.

Let’s start with the tax itself. As has been reported before, our Home Rule application projected receipts of $840,000 annually by using a formula, as other cities had and which was deemed acceptable by the Home Rule Board. This was our best guess. Nevertheless, when it came time to approve the 2019 fiscal year budget (July 1, 2018 — June 30, 2019), the Administrative Officers and Council were conservative, including only $250,000. Based on our budgeting experience and advice from organizations who had been through the sales tax implementation process, we determined it was better to underestimate than to overspend. These additional funds were spread throughout all the departments that rely on general fund revenues and are currently being used, or are expected to be used, in support of a variety of initiatives and services including additional police officers and equipment; renovations to the police department; support staff in the Operations Department; partial funding of the after school program at the Phil Gainer Community Center; employee pay raises; demolition of dilapidated properties; and beautification.

Considering that the first disbursement the city received from the State Tax Department was $184,833.12 for two months of collection, the ultimate revenue will be much greater than budgeted for in FY19 and potentially higher than originally forecasted. However, as the city has been repeatedly advised by other municipalities and the State Tax Department, the best estimates of the penny tax can only be made after a minimum of 18 months of collection, which for Elkins, won’t be realized until December 2019, and won’t be disbursed until early 2020. Budgets are always a best estimate, as both revenues and expenditures can be unpredictable at times. However the city has done well, receiving stellar annual audits (mandated by State Code and conducted by an outside agency), in their predictions. This is due primarily to the diligent and articulate work of the city treasurer, the other administrative officers and the Council Finance Committee.

Now, what about future spending? Regular readers of the Inter-Mountain are surely aware that in September of this year, the city adopted a five-year strategic plan. The deliberation and discussion of this plan lasted over seven months and was highlighted in this publication more than half a dozen times. Being familiar with this plan and its purpose, you’ll understand that the plan is a culmination of input from previous city plans, citizen requests, current elected and appointed officials, and our statutory obligations to state and federal governments. Further, as a reader of the I.M. you would have seen the series in August highlighting the opinions of six previous Elkins’ mayors. Interestingly enough, every comment from every mayor regarding how the penny sales tax revenue should be spent is included in the 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. This illustrates that the city is not reinventing the wheel, but simply responding to the citizen’s continuing needs and wants to be an attractive and successful community. The plan exists for the sole purpose of directing the funds and actions of both current and future administrations. Calculating every milestone identified in the plan for the next five years equals rough estimates (excluding any labor costs) of nearly $8 million. In the very near future, the city is focusing on projects such as boundary expansion; foot and bike patrols by the EPD; City Hall renovations; a neighborhood ward watch program; improved internal and external communication; adopting a new zoning ordinance; ADA compliance at City Hall; and creating funds for dilapidated property demolition and matching community grants. These are only a few examples. For a complete review of the Strategic Plan, visit the City Council page of our website.

To submit ideas or input on the plan or any other budget matters, please contact your council representatives. Also, remember that all council and committee meetings are open to the public. A schedule of meetings is posted and kept up to date on our website.