UCDA director Robbie Skinner / (My Buckhannon file photo)

Upshur Development Authority requests additional funds to launch housing study, façade enhancement project

BUCKHANNON—The Upshur County Commission has agreed to allocate an additional $20,000 to the Upshur County Development Authority in the county’s fiscal year 2025 budget.

In previous budgets, the UCDA requested $40,000 from the commission, but Upshur County Development Authority Director Robbie Skinner said he wanted to fund several new projects in the upcoming fiscal year. The additional $20,000 request would bring the commission’s contribution to the UCDA up to $60,000.

Skinner made the request during the commission’s March 8 budgeting session.

“This past year, even with your contribution and the city’s contribution and the other monies we received from the state and through some grants, we pulled down $110,000 out of our rainy-day fund just to balance the budget (for the 2023-2024 fiscal year), and I’m talking about a very, very bare-bones budget,” Skinner said. “I cut $35,000 out of the budget, and we still had to draw down from our rainy-day fund.

“If we receive the additional requests that I’m asking for from the city and from the county, we will draw down $55,000 from our rainy-day fund (for the 2025 fiscal year), which makes me feel better, but I don’t love drawing down from the rainy-day fund,” he added.

Skinner said the UCDA is operating the Innovation Center at a loss currently, despite cutting expenses.

“Some of the leases that have been set up there are 10-year leases, and they do not include any increases — that’s how they were built — and we’re not very far along in that 10-year process, so things go up, and the leases are not, so the building is costing us $29,000 a month to operate,” Skinner said. “We’ve cut a lot out of the building: We’ve cut frills, Brandon [Tenney, assistant UCDA director] and I are essentially the maintenance crew for the building — we do a lot of the cleaning because we’ve cut all that down and we’re bringing in about $21,000 in revenue for the building.”

Skinner also hopes to start a façade improvement program for businesses with part of the additional money.

“The city started this program when I was on council before I was mayor, but it was only in city limits, and it was for commercial properties only,” Skinner said. “The city invested $5,000 into it, and it was a $1 for $1 match program, so people could apply for up to $1,500 max per project, and then they’d have a $3,000 project, or they could spend more, but they were only going to get $1,500, and they had to prove that they would at least spend $1,500 on the project to improve the looks of the buildings in Buckhannon.”

The UCDA wants to start its own version of the program throughout the county by contributing $15,000, and each project would receive $5,000.

“That means we would be able to do three projects a year, and that’s still pretty good, but that means it would be a minimum of $10,000 project or more,” Skinner said. “I can tell you from what I’ve done at the jewelry store building — just what I’ve done on the exterior of the building with the new awning and the new metal — is $12,500.”

The second project the UCDA was hoping to tackle was a new housing study throughout the county.

“We need to do a housing study, and we’ve talked at the board level a lot about a comprehensive housing study, but we have not pulled the trigger on it yet simply because it’s just so expensive,” Skinner told commissioners. “A housing study is going to cost about $30,000 to do it right.

“We would collect bids, and we would go with a professional company to do the housing study,” he continued. “There are certain pieces of information that are required in a housing study that would make it so we’re able to receive grant funding, and we’re able to be marketed for housing developments in our community.”

Skinner said he doesn’t want people to just work in Buckhannon or Upshur County — he wants them to live here and support local businesses.

“We need quality housing of all levels for people because if you have people that want to come and work at the hospital, Community Care and the college, it’s very difficult for them to find a house, and I don’t want to lose people to Bridgeport unnecessarily just because we don’t have the housing stock,” he said. “We have enough competition and reasons for people to live elsewhere, like the school system. We don’t need to be losing people because they simply can’t find a house in Buckhannon or Upshur County.”

Fifteen thousand dollars of the additional $20,000 request would go toward the housing study, and the remaining amount would go toward the façade improvement project.

“The reason I broke it up that way is because this is going to affect the entire county much more so than it ever would the city, because if you drive around the city, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to build a new house in the city,” Skinner said. “We have homes that need renovations done to them, but if you want to start from scratch, you’re going to need to build outside of town because that’s where the available land is.”

Commissioners approved the $60,000 request in their draft fiscal year 2025 budget, but the county has not finalized and officially approved the budget yet.

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