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City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins reviews 2022-2023 fiscal year budget highlights Thursday night. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Council approves $6.9 million budget prioritizing public safety, infrastructure

BUCKHANNON – Over half of the City of Buckhannon’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year – about 53 percent – is dedicated to public safety, but the Streets Department has also been allotted a significant chunk of change to complete infrastructure projects.

Following a string of working meetings that began in February, Buckhannon City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a $6.9 million 2022-2023 fiscal year budget. The estimated budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, is required to be balanced – meaning revenues and expenditures must match – and submitted to the West Virginia State Auditor’s office by March 28, according to W.Va. State Code.

Balanced at $6,959,176, the budget is the largest the city has ever passed in March of any year. It’s up from the approximately $5.6-million-dollar budget council passed in March 2021 for the current fiscal year – a difference of about $1.3 million.

However, city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins pointed out that $1.15 million of that is a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to install a generator at the city’s Public Safety Complex on Florida Street that won’t be completed by this fiscal year’s end on June 30 and must be rolled over into the 2023 FY.

About $1.7 million in the city’s 1 percent sales tax will be moved over from the account it’s kept into the general fund as part of the $6.9 million budget.

While 53.8 percent of the budget has been allocated to the Buckhannon Police Department, Buckhannon Fire Department and maintenance of the Public Safety Complex, the Streets Department received 26.3 percent – or $1.83 million – of the overall general fund budget to complete two major infrastructure projects and two smaller upgrades at the PSC.

At Thursday’s meeting, Jenkins reviewed budget highlights, saying council had selected $638,000 dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects to prioritize, and city officials may allot more funds for additional projects after July 1. In comparison, city officials earmarked $412,000 for streets, sidewalks and paving projects in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

“The Streets Department presented a list of sidewalk, streets and lighting projects that were identified throughout the town which really is several million dollars, but of course that can’t all be done at one time,” Jenkins explained. “Council had a tough job in ranking the projects, but they really thought this through.”

Two major projects topping the list? A sidewalks and lighting project on Meade Street and the excavation and the development of green space where the former Chase Bank drive-thru was located adjacent to Madison Street. Smaller projects include a sidewalks and lighting project on South Kanawha Street from Main Street to Wendy’s and upgrades to the Public Safety Complex parking lot and building façade.

“These are a combination of in-house labor and contracted work,” Jenkins noted.

Additionally, the general fund budget – which does not encompass the Waste, Sanitary Sewer and Water department budgets – includes money to hire an additional police officer. That new hire would bring the force up to 12 officers, including police chief Matt Gregory.

City officials also earmarked $50,000 for a full-time Colonial Arts Center managing director and part-time assistant. However, no funds have been allocated for a city parks and recreation director or the Buckhannon Parks and Recreation Board of Directors that council recently established.

No money has been set aside yet to pay for the construction of a $3.2-million-dollar multipurpose gymnasium addition to the Stockert Youth & Community Center, but the SYCC Board is currently exploring grant and loan opportunities.

The upcoming fiscal year budget does not include any across-the-board pay raises, but council plans to revisit the issue after July 1 and may implement salary increases for full-time employees based on longevity, i.e., the number of years they’ve worked for the City of Buckhannon.

Other budget highlights include:

  • Funding for the salary of an additional police officer; a new police cruiser and training that encompasses a use-of-force simulator; and fitness/training classes for the police department
  • Money to hire a third full-time career firefighter for the Buckhannon Fire Department, payment for the new fire truck that recently arrived in Buckhannon, purchase of fitness equipment, trade-in and replacement of a 2012 Ford truck; personal protective equipment for the new career firefighters
  • $60,000 for contracting out mowing of the Heavner Cemetery
  • Financing of an excavator with a brush hog for the Streets Department
  • Money to cover the cost of replacing workstations in City Hall and upgrade separator walls
  • A 5 percent increase in the cost of Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance for employees
  • A 1 percent decrease in the city’s contribution to employee retirement

Mayor Robbie Skinner thanked Jenkins for the long hours she spent assembling the budget.  

“I feel comfortable with it, and I think we all can collectively say how much we appreciate Amby’s work on this budget,” Skinner said. “She makes our jobs so much less of a headache because she has so much prepared for us, and Amby knows this budget like the back of her hand. I can’t thank you enough for the hard work you’ve [put in] – nights and weekends – helping us put this together.”

The budget passed unanimously. The city will lay levy rates at 9 a.m. April 19 at City Hall.

The breakdown of the budget is as follows:

  • 53.8 percent ($3.74 million) allotted to public safety (police department, fire department and Public Safety Complex)
  • 26.3 percent ($1.83 million) dedicated to the Streets Department
  • 5.8 percent ($405,000) allocated for administrative functions/City Hall operations
  • 5.1 percent ($356,400) earmarked for the Stockert Youth & Community Center
  • 2 percent ($136,000) allotted for maintenance of city parks, flowers and cemetery
  • 1.8 percent ($124,200) budgeted for the Upshur County Convention & Visitors Bureau/the Event Center at Brushy Fork
  • 1.4 percent ($100,000) budgeted for the Colonial Arts Center
  • 1.3 percent ($89,400) allocated for housing
  • 1.1 percent of the budget will support outside entities

Estimated contributions to outside entities/events include (may fluctuate; not a complete list):

  • $40,000 to the Upshur County Development Authority for economic development
  • $21,000 for events including: $5,000 for 2023 Festival Fridays; $5,000 to the 2023 West Virginia Strawberry Festival; $8,000 for Fourth of July fireworks; and $3,000 for the 2023 World Association of Marching Show Bands Championship in July 2023
  • $15,000 to the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority
  • $15,000 to Country Roads Transit
  • $5,000 to the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department

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