BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council is contemplating creating a new public relations and grant writing position that would enable the city to “tell its story,” mayor David McCauley said Thursday.
The information and grants coordinator and programs facilitator position recommended by McCauley would be responsible for 11 main duties, including promoting the city’s message via press releases and social media platforms; maintaining the city’s website; researching and writing municipal grant applications; crafting internal newsletters; and assisting in the development of holistic programs associated with the Stockert Youth Center, among other assignments, according to the official job description.
Council was not in agreement on the development of the position, with some council members saying it wasn’t necessary, while others argued it’s been a city priority for years that has yet to be accomplished.
McCauley said the city has saved nearly half a million dollars over the past year through the elimination of eight full-time positions, bringing the number of city employees down from 92 to 84. The mayor suggested that the new position would be compensated approximately $30,000 plus an additional $15,000 for health care and other benefits and would be paid out of all five of the city’s enterprise funds, including waste collection, sanitary, water, consolidated public works board and the general fund.
Councilman Robbie Skinner said he had reservations about bringing the new employee on board.
“It seems to me that we have the following entities for our utilization for public relations and grant writing opportunities: we have the CVB, we have the Chamber of Commerce, the development authority, Region VII Planning & Development Council, Strawberry Festival Association, board of education and the list could go on,” Skinner said. “I think that we need to work with some or all of those entities and ask questions of them and meet with them to kind of align expectations as far as ... what message we would like to get out through the channels of those organizations, some of which we already invest in.”
Councilman David Thomas said he wasn’t completely opposed to ever approving the position — but now was not the time.
“It’s not in the budget this year,” Thomas said. “I’m not saying we never do it, but it’s not time to do it right now. I say we table it until the next budgeting process.”
Councilman CJ Rylands said it isn’t outside entities’ responsibility to “tell the city’s story.”
“I think asking the CVB or the chamber or these other organizations to tell the city’s story is … just no. They have their own defined responsibilities,” Rylands said. “This is an investment. If you go through these 11 points, this person is going to have to be one heck of an individual to meet these expectations.”
“And tabling things … I’ve never finished anything I didn’t start,” Rylands added. “This has been on the table since 2009 (when it was recommended in the city’s comprehensive plan). It’s an investment that will pay dividends in helping us create our story to the community and across the state.”
McCauley said the person would be required not only to write grants but to research grant opportunities, which can be time-consuming. He also argued that although state and federal grant opportunities are dwindling, there are plenty of private foundations doling out money for projects.
Skinner said, “I just think there’s conversations that we need to have with our current entities, because Region VII is a state government entity that receives funding from all different sources that is for our utilization. In addition to that, we have an office up the street (the CVB), and the sole purpose of that office is to attract people to our community, to communicate what our community is doing well, not only to the outside world, but within our community.”
City recorder Susan Aloi asked who the point person would be to work with external organizations.
“Who would be the one to go to the CVB or the chamber and say, ‘We need a grant for x?’” Aloi asked. “You wouldn’t want them to have to be looking at each of the departments in the city and figuring out, ‘What does the sewer department need next?’”
Rylands said only two of the points in the job description pertained to grant writing.
“[Outside groups] are not going to draft off fliers and proof documents and newsletters, they’re not going to work with the development holistic programs at Stockert Youth Center,” he said.
Thomas reiterated that it was a “timing issue” for him.
“We feel really good about saving $480,000, but we did some additions also, and we’re looking at an investment if we do this of somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000,” Thomas said. “I would prefer to have further discussions like we’re doing tonight.”
McCauley whole-heartedly disagreed.
“Here’s what’s going to happen if we do what Dave Thomas wants to do,” McCauley said. “We’re going to kick the can down the road until February and then we’re going to say, ‘Oh, we need to do that now, we talked about that last July,’ and ‘Oh, we’ve got too much stuff going on with this budget,’ — ‘Let’s just wait until we get into the new fiscal year and then we’ll figure it out,’ because that’s what we’ve been doing for the 34-plus years I’ve been associated with the city. When I came here in May of 1983, one of the things they were kicking around was the need for a grant writer.”
McCauley suggested council convene a meeting to further discuss the issue sometime prior to Aug. 31, but council did not set a specific date.