City council budgets for Fourth of July fireworks, Jawbone Park sound system and more

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City councilman Robbie Skinner and Mayor David McCauley Thursday at council's bimonthly meeting. Council voted to approve a budget revision that would allocate funds to support the W.Va. Strawberry Festival, Fourth of July fireworks and more.

BUCKHANNON – Higher than expected revenues enabled the City of Buckhannon to budget for a handful of items – including Fourth of July fireworks – city council members said they feel enhance the quality of life in Buckhannon at Thursday’s meeting.

City council voted to approve a budget revision of $183,898, taking the city’s 2018-2019 fiscal year budget from about $4.4 million to approximately $4.6 million. As a part of the revision, council voted to budget $2,500 for Fourth of July fireworks, $10,000 toward the purchase a permanent sound system in Jawbone Park and $5,000 as a contribution to the West Virginia Strawberry Festival.

Another $34,500 in as-of-yet unused grant funds will help pay for part-time labor to quicken the pace of the historic Colonial Theatre renovation project on Main Street.

When council budgets for a fiscal year every March, the budget numbers are estimates, city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins explained. She said she budgets conservatively, underestimating revenue and overestimating expenditures so the city won’t be caught in the red.

Since the budget must be balanced at the fiscal year’s end – meaning revenues and expenditures must match – Jenkins presents budget revisions throughout the year. The revisions are intended to balance the budget if unanticipated revenues or expenditures pop up.

For instance, Jenkins said the main reason for Thursday’s budget revision was to fund the cost of employee health insurance – $61,000 – and pay an $8,000 bill related to the municipal election in May 2018 that she didn’t receive until after the start of the 2018-2019 fiscal year July 1, 2018. (City officials didn’t receive information about changes in the cost of health insurance premiums until after all municipal and county budgets were due to the state auditor’s office at the end of March 2018.)

On the revenues side, due to an upswing in construction activity, the city collected $53,386 more in contractors’ business and occupation tax and has $52,000 in grant monies from the W.Va. Division of Culture and History.

“The total budget revision is $183,898, and I’m just going to highlight some of the bigger items, and then go over some of the items I’d like for you to maybe discuss,” Jenkins said. “The reason for a budget revision is for council to approve further expenditures and to adjust some line items that we may have collected more on than we anticipated, and we may have expensed more items than we anticipated.

“So, in revenues, we have $183,898 that we can budget into expenditures because we have to balance this budget,” she explained to council.

Jenkins said the $52,000 in culture and arts grant money would cover the cost of the sound equipment ($10,000), Fourth of July fireworks ($2,500) and a contribution to the 2019 W.Va. Strawberry Festival ($5,000).

“I’d like to recycle some of that money – the rest of that money – back into the (Colonial) Theatre to try to get that project moving with some part-time labor,” Jenkins said. “Jerry’s (Jerry Arnold, public works director) men are just stretched to the limits. They don’t have time to work on that all the time, and I think we need to get some part-time people in there to continue this project to try to get some things knocked out.”

“We’re asking for some [additional] grant money, and we need to make some progress with this grant money,” Jenkins added.

Councilman Robbie Skinner said he thought council ought to budget for Fourth of July fireworks.

“This a city event, it’s a community event, and to me, we look at it the same as Strawberry Festival or Festival Fridays,” Skinner said. “This is a public event that is good for our community, and this is something that we have basically taken on to sponsor, so I’m in favor of us [budgeting for fireworks] this year.

“It’s tough to fundraise for because you’re just following the Strawberry Festival,” Skinner added, noting donor fatigue has often hindered fundraising efforts for fireworks. “I think we should honor supporting the Strawberry Festival, Festival Fridays, we have to do our part of helping to create the livability of our community as well.”

Councilwoman Pam Cuppari agreed, saying, “With everything else that we have that’s going on so positive for Buckhannon, it’d be a shame if Buckhannon wouldn’t have fireworks.”

Mayor David McCauley noted paying for a permanent sound system in Jawbone Park won’t just benefit Create Buckhannon and Festival Fridays, but also a variety of other events that take place in the centrally located park.

“It’s not just for Festival Fridays, it would benefit veterans’ events, the Strawberry Festival and Relay for life,” McCauley said. “Jawbone Park is coming to be used year-round.”

McCauley also encouraged council to embrace Jenkins’ suggestion to budget for part-time labor that would hasten the completion of the first major phases of the Colonial Theatre renovation project.

“We have to, in short order and as part of our application due for this Phase 2 for this grant, [show some progress],” the mayor said. “These people really like Buckhannon, but we’ve got to be able to show, about the time that we apply for Phase 2, that we’ve made progress with Phase 1A and 1B.

“There’s some things we need to do in the next couple months,” McCauley continued. “This allows the labor … to continue to happen there, and it’s money that was sent to us for that purpose. We’re just redirecting it back to this program.”

Councilman CJ Rylands made a motion to approve the budget revision, which was seconded by Skinner prior to passing unanimously via a roll call vote.