BUCKHANNON – City Council on Thursday voted to gift a total of $15,000 in in-kind services and cash to the Almost Heaven BBQ Bash, which is planning its savory, saucy return to Buckhannon this June.
Council voted 6-1 to make the donation at its Feb. 16 meeting after the city’s Revenue and Expense Review Committee forwarded a recommendation to contribute $10,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services for temporary infrastructure to the barbecue extravaganza.
The two-day barbecue competition and festival are slated for Friday, June 16 and Saturday, June 17, 2023, and will take place at Jawbone Park in downtown Buckhannon. Event organizers anticipate accommodating thousands of visitors for the barbecue competition, including some of the top-ranked Kansas City Barbecue Society teams in the U.S., according to a previous story.
Council members said they wanted to ensure the event succeeded because it is returning to Upshur County for the first time since 2016, after which it moved to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and Stonewall Resort properties in Lewis County.
Mayor Robbie Skinner explained that the Revenue Expense and Review committee vets outside entity funding requests, but whether those requests are ultimately fulfilled rests with council.
“The original request was for the sum of $15,000, but where the Revenue and Expense Review Committee had some discussion is, they included some infrastructural requests that they were going to take on (including running water and electricity to the sites), but we think we can do some of those things, and that’s what we’re going to meet about in a couple of weeks,” Skinner said.
BBQ Bash organizer Jody Light said thus far, 19 teams and 36 judges are signed up to partake in the event, which will see people traveling from 14 states and Switzerland to compete.
City recorder Randy Sanders said he was on board with the funding request.
“This is one of those events that will bring tourism, that will put heads in beds, which is an expression you hear a lot nowadays,” Sanders said. “What hotel rooms we have in our community will be effectively filled with this event, and it’s going to put a lot of people on our Main Street and in our businesses, and that’s where the 1 percent sales tax will help us recoup some of this – and then the just the opportunity to promote the image of Buckhannon to another group of individuals, it’s really it’s hard to even put a value on that.”
Councilman Dave Thomas made a motion to approve the funding request, and Sanders seconded it. However, councilwoman Pam Bucklew said she wanted to ensure that all the details regarding exactly what the money would support were outlined in writing.
“I know last year, we gave the Strawberry Festival $25,000, and that is an event that goes on for eight, nine, 10 days,” Bucklew said. “What’s the $10,000 going to pay for?”
Light said she’d provided the Revenue and Expense Review Committee with a breakdown of the numbers, but the money would cover the advertised $10,000 in cash prizes, the cost of bringing in family-friendly activities and more.
Skinner said the contribution would “help get this back established in Buckhannon and to help it go very smoothly” and Light said organizers have been focused on fun, family activities.
“The Dinosaur Show was a couple thousand dollars, so we’re just trying to get some things here that we really make it a good family event,” Light said. “When you’re bringing people in from 14 or 15 states, they’ll be staying here filling up the hotels. Even when we were in Weston, they were filling up the hotels here.”
(You can see a full list of events at the BBQ Bash’s website here.)
“I just want to make sure everything is in writing, and everybody knows what’s going on this time,” Bucklew said.
Councilman David McCauley said he thought the contribution was too much.
“Ten-thousand dollars is a lot of money,” McCauley said. “I fully support the return of the BBQ bash to Buckhannon, but what message are we sending to Create Buckhannon and the Senior Center and everybody else out there about giving $10,000 to one entity for a weekend?” McCauley continued. “The optics concern me a little bit, so I am all about bringing the BBQ Bash back and contributing something in addition to the in-kind services which we’re valuing at $5,000 bucks but $10,000 cold cash is a lot of money.”
Thomas said the city is in the best financial shape it’s ever been in due to the 1 percent sales tax.
“I’m not concerned about the optics, David, for just one year,” Thomas told McCauley. “I mean $10,000 – we’re in great financial shape, better than we have been.”
Skinner said West Virginia is a tourism state and Upshur County should capitalize on that.
“It’s events like this that are so crucial to the vitality of our community,” the mayor said. “I understand the concerns about fiscal responsibility, but I don’t see that $10,000 to bring an event back that hasn’t been here in several years and to make it be as successful as we can possibly make it, I don’t see that as us jumping off of the fiscal cliff.”
Councilman Jack Reger acknowledged $10,000 was “a lot of money” but said the investment is a smart one.
“There are things we do need to support, and I think the BBQ Bash is a tremendous step forward for Buckhannon and having them come back and supporting it and helping them get off the ground is important,” Reger said.
Bucklew, Sanders, Reger, Skinner, Thomas and councilman CJ Rylands voted 6-1 to approve the funding request. McCauley voted no “only as to the amount,” he specified.
At Thursday’s meeting, council also:
- Approved a $1,250 contribution to the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards dinner, which is slated for 6 p.m. March 16 at the Event Center at Brushy Fork.
- Approved a $1,000 request to assist in developing a Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan from Region VII Planning & Development Council.