BUCKHANNON – City council passed the largest budget in Buckhannon’s history Tuesday, with the two largest allocations once again earmarked for public safety operations and infrastructure maintenance, respectively.
At its March 14 meeting – rescheduled from March 16 due to the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards dinner – Buckhannon City Council passed a $6.48 million-dollar-budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024.
West Virginia State Code requires that cities and counties submit their annual budgets to the W.Va. State Auditor’s Office annually by March 28, and that they are balanced, meaning revenues and expenditures must match.
Although Buckhannon City Council passed a $6.9 million-dollar budget in March of 2022, approximately $1.15 million of that amount was a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to install a generator at the city’s Public Safety Complex on Florida Street. In other words, without the inclusion of those federal grant dollars, the 2022-2023 budget was actually about $5.75 million, as compared to 2023-2024 budget of nearly $6.5 million.
For the upcoming fiscal year of 2023-2024, the city also plans to pull roughly $2.25 million from its 1 percent sales tax account as compared with the current fiscal year, at the beginning of which city officials estimated they would have to transfer about $1.7 million in sales tax monies.
Council met in working sessions three times throughout February and March. On Tuesday, mayor Robbie Skinner asked city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins to review the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.
“This is the General Fund, which is not limited to, but basically takes care of our streets, parks, office administration here at City Hall, our police department, our fire department and the Stockert Youth & Community Center,” Skinner explained. “This budget does not include our Water Department, Sewer Department and Waste Department.”
The Sanitary Sewer Department, which oversees stormwater management, the Waste Collection Department, and the Water Department are each separate enterprise funds that aren’t permitted to intermingle with General Fund monies.
Jenkins reviewed several budget basics, adding that she is willing to explain the ins and outs of the budget to members of the public any time they stop by Buckhannon City Hall. She said she felt comfortable pulling $2.25 million in sales tax to fill the gap between revenues and expenses because the city collected approximately $2,071,000 in sales tax in the last four quarters alone.
“I like to kind of put together a pie chart so you can see where the city’s priorities are, and the largest percentages of our budget are going to public safety (45.6 percent) and streets (25.8 percent),” Jenkins said. “I want to pause here and say that we have discussed raising the police and fire fee, but that would have to be done at a later point and is not built into the current budget.”
During a working budget session March 13, the prior day, Jenkins said that the police fee is $1.50 a month, but if it were increased to $5, that would enable the city to amass an additional $92,000. Likewise, if the city’s monthly fire fee, currently $3, was upped to $7.50, the municipality could collect another $113,000.
However, city council would be required to pass a three-reading ordinance prior to raising those fees, and during that March 13 working session, Skinner said he believed the increase was overdue.
“I am of the belief personally that $1.50 a month for police protection is ridiculous,” the mayor said. “I think I think it’s that that fee has not been raised since the 80s, and it needs to go up, and so we suggested $5 for city police protection and $7.50 for city fire protection.”
Some budget items Jenkins highlighted on the expenditures side included:
- New and existing Police Department equipment in the amount of $216,500, including mobile radios for police cruisers, radios for the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) members, and three new police cruisers that will replace old ones
- New and existing fire equipment in the amount of $186,000, including $15,000 in equipment for volunteer firefighters, a new pickup truck for the fire chief
- $55,000 in new Street Department equipment, including new skid steer attachments for the brush hog and a grapple bucket
- $216,000 in existing payments for the Street Department for equipment and property, including the property on Mud Lick Road
- $13,800 for security system upgrades for City Hall
- Engineering design work for the Jawbone Run Watershed study
- $39,000 in computer network upgrades for all city departments
- $64,000 for new seating for the Colonial Arts Center
- $47,000 for a part-time salary and benefits for a manager of the Event Center at Brushy Fork, along with Event Center utilities and other miscellaneous items
- $60,000 for the new proposed public safety and fire training facility on Mud Lick Road adjacent to the Street Department
- $216,000 for the new SYCC multi-purpose building (the total cost is estimated at $4 million at a 3.5 percent 30-year interest rate, or $18,000 a month)
- $200,000 for street projects and $100,000 for street paving
- $20,000 for a new kitchen/basement water infiltration project(s) at SYCC
The breakdown of the budget is as follows:
- Public safety (police department, fire department, public safety complex) – 45.6 percent or $2.9 million
- Streets (streets, sidewalks, maintenance) – 25.8 percent or approximately $1.7 million
- Stockert Youth & Community Center – 9.6 percent or $622,700
- Administrative (City Hall) – 7 percent or $453,360
- Upshur Convention & Visitors Bureau and Event Center at Brushy Fork – 2.7 percent or $172,150
- Parks/flowers/cemetery maintenance – 2.1 percent or $136,000
- Contributions to outside entities – 2 percent or $128,000
- Stormwater funds (this is a contribution from General Fund budget to the Sanitary Board for stormwater operations) – 1.5 percent or $100,000
- Housing – 1.4 percent or $92,120
- Council did not allocate any money for its contingency or “rainy day” fund
Estimated contributions to outside entities/events include (may fluctuate; not a complete list):
- Upshur County Development Authority – $40,000
- Create Buckhannon/Festival Fridays – $10,000
- ART26201 – $7,000
- Artistry on Main – $6,000
- West Virginia Strawberry Festival –$25,000
- Fourth of July fireworks – $10,000
- Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority – $15,000
- Country Roads Transit – $15,000
- Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department – $5,000
Skinner asked for a motion to approve the 2023-2024 fiscal year budget, excluding the $40,000 allocated for the Upshur County Development Authority of which he is the executive director, and the motion passed unanimously. The mayor then asked for a second motion, including the UCDA funding, and he abstained from the vote due to a conflict of interest. The second motion also passed unanimously.
City council will lay the levy at 9 a.m. April 18.