BUCKHANNON — Which issues should city council prioritize as it works to better Buckhannon?
During a recent special meeting of council, members identified the top five most important municipal matters during a brainstorming session that took place in conjunction with the work of the city’s Municipal Assessment Committee, headed by city recorder Susan Aloi. At the Thursday, July 27 meeting, council members agreed that economic vitality; health and wellness; infrastructure; public relations and communication; and planning and evaluation were of paramount importance.
After a two-hour long working meeting, council identified a variety of specific points that fell under each category. Economic vitality included West Virginia Wesleyan College’s involvement in the city, beautification, Corridor H preparation, annexation, reviewing current streams of revenue to consider enhancements, events, Buckhannon River recreation and arts. Health and wellness encompassed substance abuse solutions, youth activities, a potential recreation center and Stockert Youth Center renovation/expansion.
Under infrastructure, council identified creating a stormwater management plan, improving streets and sidewalks and making them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, bike lanes, crosswalks to create pedestrian-friendly streets, more signage and environmentally sustainable initiatives.
The public relations and communications category included hiring of a communications director, hiring of a grant proposal writer, collaboration with other organizations, town-college relations and practicing positivity by being proactive in providing accurate, widely-distributed information.
Finally, under planning and evaluation, council pointed to collaborative synergy designed with intentionality, conducting a study of the public service districts, Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies certification for the Buckhannon Police Department, Commission on Fire Accreditation International certification for the Buckhannon Fire Department, expanding initiatives for seniors and reviewing the role and structure of the city planning commission and city plan.
During the discussion leading up to the final list of priorities, council members individually listed their top 10 priorities for the city, raised several concerns and even gave mayor David McCauley some feedback on his performance thus far.
Councilman David Thomas said he thought the city’s number one priority should be concentrating on identifying new sources of revenue.
“I think the biggest problem we have is to enhance our revenue stream or else we can’t accomplish any of the rest of this stuff,” Thomas said. “I believe that firmly.”
Meanwhile councilman C.J. Rylands advocated for the addition of a public relations/grant writing position for the city.
“We spend a disproportionate amount of time informing people that are here (in city hall), advocating for things based on inaccurate and not complete information,” Rylands remarked. “If we had someone that could tell our story a little more effectively and proactively, then maybe we’d spend less time informing and disarming and calming people down that are upset that are responding to inaccurate information.”
Council is set to further discuss and possibly vote on the addition of a public information coordinator/grant writer at its regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. The topic was somewhat controversial at the July 20 meeting, with not all council members agreeing on whether the position and associated costs were necessary.
Councilman Robbie Skinner also raised the issue of how negative public perceptions of the Upshur County School system sometimes affect the city.
“There’s things we can do here locally to improve the morale for and the feelings toward our school system,” Skinner said. “I’m proud to be a Buckhannon-Upshur alum, but there are a lot of people that have nothing good to say about the B-U school system. That affects us as a potential place for someone to relocate for a job, a business or their home if they don’t feel the system is even close to adequate. I think we’re losing out on opportunities for people living here just because there’s so much negativity out there about it, and a lot of it is misinformed, but perception is reality.”
Thomas praised the performance of McCauley.
“I am very, very encouraged with the proactive stance that the mayor has taken for the community,” Thomas said, noting this is his 14th year on council. “I don’t agree with David (McCauley) all the time, and he knows that. I have concerns here and there, but overall, now compared to, I don’t care if it’s 10 years ago or five years ago or even a year-and-a-half ago, I think we have a lot to be proud of.”
Councilwoman Pam Cuppari said she also thought McCauley was doing relatively well but is moving too quickly on several fronts.
“As far as you go, mayor, I think you’re doing a pretty good job, but to be honest, I think you’re going a little too fast,” Cuppari said.
McCauley replied, “That’s the only way to go, pedal to the metal.”
Council will discuss the priorities that arose out of the Municipal Assessment Committee/special council meeting at a later date. A regular city council meeting is slated for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in city hall.