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Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold shares some thoughts with city council during a March 12 budget session. Council ultimately passed the budget at its regular March 21 meeting. (Photo by Katie Kuba)

City prioritizes streets, sidewalks in fiscal year 2024-2025 budget

BUCKHANNON – The city’s soon-to-retire public works director advised Buckhannon City Council to get street-wise – literally – leading up to the passage of its 2025 fiscal year budget last week.

At its March 21 meeting, city council approved a $6.78 million-dollar general fund budget – exactly $6,782,900 – for the upcoming fiscal year which runs from July 1, 2024, through June 30, 2024. During a budget workshop earlier that month, Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold advised council to develop a comprehensive plan for paving roadways over the next 10 years.

And for the first time in years, city officials committed more money to the Street Department – about $1.66 million – than to either the Buckhannon Police Department ($1.64 million) or the Buckhannon Fire Department ($1.35 million). That’s partly because the city must hire someone to shadow Arnold until he officially retires in April 2025.

Arnold recommended council commit $200,000 annually to paving for the next 10 years and develop a long-term comprehensive plan. He said of the 100,000 square yards of paved surface in Buckhannon, the majority would earn a failing grade, according to a national roadway rating system called the Remaining Surface Life, or RSL.

“Currently, 85 percent of that [paved surface] is actually below that failing grade according to national statistics on our remaining street life or surface life,” Arnold said at the March 12 budget meeting. “Still, with this budget right here, we’re saying, ‘Whatever money is left, throw in our coffers so we can do our work.”

“We shouldn’t even be having that discussion,” he added.

During the same meeting, Street Department Superintendent Bradley Hawkins said the two projects that most need attention are the Morton Avenue and Clarksburg Road sidewalks due to safety concerns.

Hawkins also recommended council earmark $200,000 for paving these roadways in the next fiscal year:

  • Randolph Street from Moore Avenue to Taylor Street, which involves paving Ohio Street and Monongalia Street
  • Reger Street
  • South Florida Street from Main Street to Madison Street
  • Meade Street from Latham Street to Madison Street

Additional Street Department allocations include:

  • $109,000 for payments on equipment the department has already obtained
  • $165,000 for street projects
  • $100,000 for the Consolidated Public Works Board which oversees the care of the city cemetery, parks and playgrounds
  • Additional payroll funds for the hiring of a new public works director in anticipation of Arnold’s retirement in 2025

The $6.78 million general fund budget council approved March 21 is the largest in Buckhannon’s history. In March 2023, council passed a $6.48 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year. (The general fund budget includes revenues and expenditures for the Street Department, Police Department, Fire Department, City Hall, Stockert Youth & Community Center and the Colonial Arts Center/Event Center at Brushy Fork.)

Before the vote on the budget, city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins said council had gone through the budget “meticulously” line by line. Below are some highlights in expenses and revenues, respectively, that Jenkins shared with the public; however, the full budget is available for perusal at City Hall.

EXPENDITURES

Buckhannon Police Department – $1.64 million

  • $228,000 for new/ongoing police cruiser/equipment payments, new pistol sites, new computers and paving of the evidence lot
  • Approximately $37,000 in auto/police cruiser supplies

Buckhannon Fire Department – $1.35 million

  • $207,000 for new/ongoing payments for equipment, including new self-contained breathing apparatuses and LIFEPAKS for firefighters
  • $15,000 for equipment for BFD volunteer firefighters
  • $15,000 to recruit more volunteers

REVENUES

Jenkins said the largest anticipated revenue sources include:

  • $2.1 million in 1 percent municipal sales tax
  • Approximately $1.49 million in business and occupation (B&O) tax
  • $967,000 in property taxes

Additionally, city officials hope to increase both the residential and commercial police and fire protection fees. According to a previous story, the fire fee for residential structures is expected to rise from $3 to $7.50 per month, making it $90 per year.

Mayor Robbie Skinner has also advocated for upping the police protection fee from $1.50 per month to $5 per month, meaning each residential household would pay $60 a year.

In total, city officials anticipate will bring in $150 per residential structure for public safety services.  (Read more about the proposed increases here.)

Councilman David Thomas said he didn’t think the city had earmarked enough money for streets, sidewalk improvement and other infrastructure projects.

“I think we need to step up the funding for the area for at least the next five years,” Thomas said. “Once we take a look at increasing our police and fire fee, that will give us some headway, I think.”

Thomas asked Jenkins how much money the city had in its rainy day fund, and she said about $960,000.

“I think at some point in time, we may want to dip into that for the streets and paving,” he said. “I think it’s a critical part of our town that we need to take better care of – the infrastructure.”

Because part of the budget included a contribution to the Upshur County Development Authority, which Skinner heads up, council took two votes: one excluding the UCDA line item and a second with the allocation to the UCDA from which he recused himself.

Below are several other notable expenses Jenkins highlighted:

  • A 14 percent increase in employee health insurance
  • $121,000 was allocated for the Event Center at Brushy Fork, which includes but isn’t limited to $40,000 for the building payment and $40,000 for payroll and benefits and the city’s new full-time hire, who will manage the operations of both the Event Center and the Colonial Arts Center
  • $201,000 was budgeted for the Colonial Arts Center, which includes $64,000 for the new theater seating payment and $25,000 for the booking of shows
  • $727,000 earmarked for Stockert Youth & Community Center, some of which includes $226,000 for a potential new multi-purpose building payment; $33,000 for programming (karate, dance and drill team); and $47,000 for bond counsel related to the possible construction of a new multipurpose addition)
  • An additional $20,000 allocation to the Upshur County Development Authority for a housing study and façade grand, bringing the total contribution to $60,000, as opposed to the $40,000 allotted in prior years
  • Outside entity contributions of $25,000 to the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association, $10,000 to Create Buckhannon for Festival Friday events, $10,000 for Fourth of July fireworks and another $20,000 for other external agencies/programs/events

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