Uptick in property values boosts budget

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BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council on Tuesday cautiously celebrated some good news on the financial front.

At the second of two working meetings on the 2018-2018 fiscal year budget, finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins told council she expects the city’s general fund will have $36,000 more in revenue funds than she previously believed.

Mayor David McCauley said Jenkins had some “guarded good news.”

“She’s got a couple of things to point out that are a little better than what we were talking about before,” McCauley said.

At its first budget meeting Feb. 19, Jenkins presented a preliminary budget balanced at $4.3 million.

But on Thursday, Jenkins explained she had just received property valuations from the assessor’s office, and the news was positive.

“So the property values were up a little bit in Class IV by about $4 million, which made a difference on our end of estimating the tax of about $20,000,” Jenkins explained. “And then another piece of good news I got actually this week was that the retirement system for the employers’ contribution is going to change from 11 percent to 10 percent, so I tweaked those numbers in the retirement contribution (through the Public Employees Retirement System), so the differences in those … was a difference of about $36,000, and I stuck that in contingency.”

Those changes enabled Jenkins to balance the budget – meaning revenues match expenditures – at $4.4 million ($4,407,479).

Contingency, or contingency capital outlay, is the amount of money the city is left with after balancing its budget during a specific fiscal year; council may dip into those funds if an unexpected expense or emergency arises. It differs from what’s known as a “rainy day fund,” which is analogous to a long-term savings account. 

Jenkins said the adjustments resulted in a contingency capital outlay of $36,566.

“Again, we have not put anything in there for pay increases other than any [civil service] testing for corporal, captain, that sort of thing,” Jenkins said. She also noted the city had not yet allocated money for its Fourth of July celebration, the 2019 Strawberry Festival or Fall Fest.

Jenkins, too, noted one unknown factor that could potentially impact the budget — the percentage health insurance premiums will rise. Jenkins said she’s unsure of the amount, and councilman CJ Rylands said the city should prepare for at least a 10 percent increase. 

Jenkins also said all city departments received money for the capital requests they had made. Among those are money to pay for a new server for city hall; computers for the Stockert Youth Center; a dump truck, backhoe and city park paving for the street department; a thermal imaging camera for the fire department; and a second part-time officer for the police department.

Money has additionally been allocated to the street department to install sidewalks on the Clarksburg Road, First Street and Madison streets and to pave parts of Camden, Meadow, Lower Rohr and Kanawha streets.

Jenkins estimated hotel/motel tax revenue at $170,000; according to state code at least 50 percent of the amount collected by a municipality must be disbursed to the local convention and visitors bureau. In Buckhannon, the city remits 70 percent of the hotel/motel tax to the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau and retains 30 percent, which must be used for specific purposes, including parks, beautification and civic arenas, Jenkins said.

City recorder Susan Aloi asked Jenkins how she arrived at the amount of $170,000.

Jenkins replied, “We know the hotels are fuller, so I’m kind of looking at some past history. Hotel and motel occupancy is expected to spike as a result of an influx of workers who will be traveling to Upshur County to construct and operate the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Rylands observed the city had raked in more than $240,000 in hotel/motel tax during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

“You’re budgeting $170,000, and in 2014-2015, we had $243,000,” Rylands said.

Jenkins said she would prefer to err on the side of her estimate being too conservative. She said at the beginning of the new fiscal year — July 1 — the city will have to complete a budget revision regardless, so that that would be an opportune time to make adjustments.

“You always have to revise this budget to the actual balance on hand in July,” Jenkins said, “so any other things that might need to be changed, we can do it then.”

McCauley said he thought the budget looked good.

“We know the nature of this beast,” the mayor said. “When we get to the end of June, first of July, we’re going to have to revise anyway. I like the way Amby [Jenkins] and Barb [Hinkle] set this up.”

Council planned to review the basics of the budget at its regular March 1 meeting Thursday and is likely to vote on it at its March 15 meeting. Municipal budgets must be submitted to the state auditor’s office by March 28, a law councilman David Thomas considers outdated.

“To have to get our budget in by March 28 is just totally antiquated,” Thomas observed. “It’s ludicrous.”

City council is responsible for setting the general fund budget; the other four utility boards — the Consolidated Public Works Board, the waste board, the sanitary and sewer board and the water board — must each approve their own budgets.

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