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How should Elkins use sales tax funds?

It is truly refreshing to see that Elkins city officials have prioritized the spending of the somewhat unexpected financial windfall from the forced imposition of the 1% sales tax on businesses. This includes, but is not limited to, employee pay raises, infrastructure projects, equipment upgrades, a mandatory recycling program, etc. right?

1. First out of the gate is a request for bids on a HVAC system at the antiquated, concrete financial vortex which will cost upwards of $1,000,000 with a monthly utility bill, paid for by city taxpayers, that could run upwards of $1,000 or more;

2. Bids for an information services coordinator to, as the proposal states, craft and distribute city-related information, whatever that means;

3. A proposal from qualified firms to provide an internet-based surplus property management and online auction services for sale of miscellaneous surplus equipment and vehicles;

4. A sound system for the downtown shoppers’ listening pleasure, which, if this ever becomes a reality, I certainly hope it isn’t designed like the sound system in Elkins council chambers. I used to attend council meetings on a regular basis, but got frustrated by council members leaning back in their chairs, away from the microphones in front of them, checking their cellphones and, in general, showing little interest in the proceedings;

5. And now, I have received a letter from the city about a proposed Phase II project, a sewer rate increase to pay for costs associated with an ongoing storm water separation design and construction project. I sure hope this “project” doesn’t take decades like the new, now antiquated water plant project took, which started out with an initial cost of $17,000,000 and ended up costing city residents upwards of $40,000,000.

Since city employee pay raises have, somehow, gotten lost in the city vernacular, I have a challenge to any and all city officials who have input into city employee pay raises. Spend a day with the employees of each city department, not only observing, but actually physically assisting them in their work. But, save the sanitation department until it is extremely hot and humid, pouring the rain down or a blinding snowstorm with temperatures well below freezing. Hop on the back of the sanitation truck, with the pungent stench of leaking trash bags and remember, these employees have to collect trash every day, regardless of the weather.

In the event that pay raises are brought up in council chambers sometime in the future, don’t humiliate these employees by “graciously” giving them a 20 cent an hour increase, since some years back, city council members had no trouble doubling their “salaries.”

If I may be so bold, here is a suggestion as a start for the city’s exploration of financial savings and effective services. On a local basis, Randolph County has three elected commissioners who represent some 29,000 residents. The city of Elkins, with a population of 7,000, has a mayor with a salary of $20,000 and a city council consisting of 10 members, each with a yearly salary of $7,200. Breaking that down, council members “earn” $600 a month. So, on a monthly basis, two council meetings lasting two hours per meeting (which most don’t) for a total of four hours a month, being assigned to two committees which have one meeting per month, say each meeting lasts two hours for a total of four hours. And let’s not forget the massive amount of phone calls received from concerned citizens about problems in their respective wards, which will add another two hours, bringing the grand total to 10 hours a month conducting city business.

Using the “old” math formula, $600/10=$60 an hour. Why does the city need 10 council representatives? Eliminating five council positions would save $36,000 and with five members, there would never be a tie vote, thus eliminating the need for a mayor, since his major function, outside of signing proclamations and being extremely photogenic, is to cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. This would save another $20,00, for a total savings of $56,000 a year.

The city webpage says the city is chartered under a weak mayor/strong council system with council exercising ultimate corporate authority. So now that Velcro-covered hands are fighting to get into the sales tax cookie jar, let’s see how strong the cookie jar lid is.

Vic White

Elkins