BUCKHANNON – City council may soon institute a new policy that would govern how it handles requests from external organizations seeking city funds.
At its July 7 meeting, city council discussed a draft outlining a proposed outside funding request process but did not ultimately vote on the matter.
Mayor Robbie Skinner explained that developing guidelines and an official process for organizations seeking financial support for events, services and other initiatives would standardize how council members evaluate funding requests.
“We want to be intelligent, and we want to be careful with tax dollars that we provide to organizations, but we also know that we’re a very active community, and we understand that – and we support a lot of entities and organizations that want to do some good things here in town,” Skinner said. “We just want to make sure that we have a button-down policy that protects us and the organization that we are working with.”
A draft form provided in the council packet states that funds will only be awarded to organizations that possess Tax ID numbers for nonprofit activities, adding that funds provided “are to be used towards an event or service that is open to the whole community.” Funds for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, must be submitted prior to March 1 so council can consider the requests during its annual budgeting process, which takes place annually in February and March.
The draft notes that preference will be given to initiatives that benefit the city; requests that have “broad-based appeal to the community, demonstrated by the number of participants; and events/services that supply “a unique benefit or service to the community.” City officials will also weigh the quality and completeness of each application.
City recorder Randy Sanders explained the idea for the policy originated when he was touring central West Virginia seeking funds from neighboring counties to support the World Association of Marching Show Bands championship, slated to take place in Buckhannon in July 2023. When he asked municipalities, county commissions, chambers of commerce, development authorities and CVBs in Harrison, Lewis, Barbour, Randolph and Braxton counties, Sanders learned some of them required that funding applicants give more detailed information than Buckhannon typically does.
“Because we’re going to be generating a huge amount of economic dollars and impact, not only in Buckhannon and Upshur County, but in Lewis County, Harrison County, Barbour County, Braxton County, they will all benefit because we’re utilizing housing, restaurants, catering services, etc.,” Sanders said. “All of those communities are going to benefit from the World Association of Marching Showbands when we have it here in 2023, so it only made sense to go and do two things – number one was to inform them about the details of the event because I didn’t want people saying, ‘we’ve heard of it, but we don’t know anything about it.’
“At the same time, because of the amount of financial benefit the other areas will receive, I’ve asked for financial support from those areas as well,” he added.
Some of his financial requests have been granted, Sanders said, but he first had to pass a “litmus test,” which involved filling out a questionnaire and supplying some financial information.
“It made me think about dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s and actually having a purposeful presentation and [it helped me] explain to them why this funding made sense, why it would help the area, what we would use it for, and what collaborative efforts would take place because of it,” he said. “I just felt that it was something we lacked here. We listen to the requests, we talk about the requests, but we really don’t know, in many instances, much about the organization itself and what its roots are.”
“This just helps us do our due diligence and find out about the event we’re actually funding,” Sanders continued.
Councilman CJ Rylands said at first the four-page form, it appeared “a little bit onerous,” but he later saw value in the policy.
“Having the information that’s requested in these four pages, that’s going to give you a lot different view of [an] organization than generally what we’ve been hearing in a marketing overview,” Rylands observed.
Skinner said the more dialogue between organizations and the city, the better their chances of receiving municipal funds.
“A couple of organizations I’ve discussed this with, that this is coming, [I’ve said] they would be prudent to come back and give us a follow-up report so council knows where the money is spent and that’s probably going to help council determine if the request is going to be granted again next year,” the mayor said. “The overarching theme here is the more communication with council the better.”
In reference to the part of the policy that indicates applications should be submitted prior to March 1, councilman Jack Reger asked if the form contained a provision for a rainy-day situation, should unanticipated needs arise.
“In life, there’s always an exception or something you can never anticipate; is there a provision in the policy that gives council the ability to address [a need] if it comes up?” Reger asked.
City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins said the form states that requests may be submitted at other times of the year “in the event that an unforeseen need or opportunity arises that could not be fulfilled using the normal application timeline.”
Councilman David Thomas noted that following the implementation of the 1 percent municipal sales tax in January 2020, there has been an uptick in outside funding requests.
“We would have never been in this position several years ago, and we are because of the sales tax,” Thomas said.
As of June 30, 2022, the city had just over $1 million in its special sales tax fund, according to Jenkins’s report earlier in the meeting.
Sanders asked council members to send him their suggestions on the draft form, which will appear as an actionable item on its July 21 meeting agenda.