BUCKHANNON – City residents will have an extra $3 per month in their pockets beginning in April 2020, thanks to Buckhannon City Council’s decision to retire the Public Safety Complex fee.
At council’s Thursday, Jan. 16 meeting, council members voted to allow the $3 per month per household fee attached to utility bills to sunset, or automatically expire, at the end of March since the city will make its final bond payment related to the PSC property and building the same month.
According to its agenda, council was set to consider implementing two new separate fees – a Public Safety Complex maintenance fee and a Stockert Youth & Community Center maintenance fee. However, mayor David McCauley said recent discussions with the city’s finance and administrative director, Amberle Jenkins, revealed those fees wouldn’t be necessary.
The PSC fee was implemented to cover the cost of purchasing the Florida Street property and renovating the safety complex, now home to the city fire and police departments.
“When we wanted to acquire the old Foodland property about 15 years ago, some folks thought we were crazy – that you could never take a whole supermarket and turn it into a Public Safety Complex,” McCauley said. “Well, guess what? We have the best safety complex in all of West Virginia in an old Foodland supermarket.”
The city’s general fund had contributed $607,500 to the purchase and renovation of the property but that wasn’t enough to undertake the PSC project, which ended up costing about $2 million, the mayor said.
“It took the better part of $2 million to realize that (city police and fire departments), and over the past 15 years, the citizens of our community have largely paid the fray to make those bond payments,” McCauley said. “And as of the end of March, we will have paid off our bonds, and the fee is scheduled to sunset – that is, it will go away automatically unless this council were to renew the fee.”
In addition, the bond payment coming to an end will free up another $40,000-some thousand dollars in the city’s general fund, the mayor said.
“Further conversation with Amby has revealed something important: The amount of $3 a month that we have been realizing over the past 15 years from our citizens had not been enough to pay the bonds,” McCauley said. “There’s another roughly $40,000-$45,000 that we had been allocating out of the general fund to pay those bonds off, so the bottom line is, when we make that final bond payment at the end of February or first of March, the general fund not only will be absolved that debt to the bond element, but that other $40,000-$45,000 that the general fund had also been advancing will come back to the general fund.”
McCauley recommend council take action to retire the PSC bonds entirely and not establish any new fees; however, he urged members to seriously consider using money from the general fund that had been allocated for bond payments on maintenance and repairs for SYCC and the PSC.
“As part of the upcoming budgetary process, we should look close at those line items for repairs and maintenance to the Public Safety Complex and the Stockert Youth & Community Center,” McCauley said.
Councilman David Thomas said city officials also need to analyze how and in what amount the revenue from the 1 percent municipal sales tax could be utilized.
“With the sales at, we need to take a look at our finances over the next 12 months to see what the impacts will be everywhere, so I think you’re correct, David,” Thomas said.
Councilman CJ Rylands made a motion that the city allow the $3 PSC fee to expire as of March 31, 2020, which was seconded by councilman Robbie Skinner. The motion passed unanimously. Council then considered agenda items that would have instituted new, separate fees for upkeep of the PSC and SYCC but voted against doing so, given Jenkins’s revelation.
In municipal sales tax-related news, council also voted to open a checking account at Premier Bank in Buckhannon for revenue generated by the 1 percent sales tax that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020. McCauley noted the city won’t receive its first quarterly check of sales tax revenue until the end of April or early May.
Jenkins recommended the city open fluid, interest-bearing money market account.
“I think we should probably set it as a money market account in the beginning until it’s built up,” Jenkins said, “and then council may want to put some of that in CDs. But for now, we’re going to have to have a somewhat liquid account that we can put money into and take out of and move as necessary until we can determine exactly how these funds are going to be spent and how often.”
Jenkins said Premier Bank offered the best interest rate of the five banks in Buckhannon. Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion that council establish a checking account at Premier, which was seconded by councilman CJ Rylands prior to passing unanimously.