Budget Session Strongly Hints Public Hearing on Unfunded Critical Needs for Possible Excess Levy

Updated 34 weeks ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
Under Structure Eighth Street Bridge
Under Structure Eighth Street Bridge

Huntington City Council members on Thursday, March 20, concluded departmental reviews of the Williams administration’s “flat” budget, a process that allowed each department to present an “addendum” illustrating projects or programs rejected.

"People need to hear what it's going to cost to be an exceptional city," Mayor Steve Williams said during the lengthy third budget hearing in Council Chambers at Huntington City Hall.

As an illustration of the “tight” budget, Mayor Williams indicated a sidewalk repair “pilot” program had been put on hold as it required $25,000 in costs from the city. The street division budget included discussion of challenges ranging from snow removal equipment to pending infrastructure near  closure emergencies such as the Eighth Street Bridge.

These join a conundrum of previously revealed challenges such as fire station maintenance and aging police vehicles.

A hint of council’s perceived reaction came early in the marathon four hour hearing.

Finance Director Deron Runyon told council chairman Mark Bates that the city has approximately $1.28 million (per year)  in excess levy funds available .

”As we look at the needs of the city this is definitely a mechanism,” Bates stated, explaining that constituents determine the projects funded (or not).

Vice chairman Scott Caserta added, “if the body wishes, this is an excellent idea to do it.”

Budget Session Strongly Hints Public Hearing on Unfunded Critical Needs for Possible Excess Levy

At large councilman Gary Bunn approved too: “This is the way to do it.”

After Bates indicated, “We have a lot of information to digest. We’ll have a town hall meeting to come up with a plan.”

Mayor Williams added his support, too: “What do citizens want us to address,” he asked referring to the city’s unfunded projects and programs. The next step would be “how do you pay for it.”

Previously, Runyon has brought forward --- at council’s request --- revenue raising strategies, including the user fee and municipal service fee.

Instead of having council pick and choose what’s wanted by residents --- and what services they would be willing to pay for --- the levy mechanism places the ball in the public’s court.

Council members have acknowledged the sensitivity of voters to fee increases. A levy with extensive public input for proposed projects would allow residents to tax themselves for newly desired and needed services.

Runyon indicated that the cost could be about $29.00 per year for property values at $90,000. $19.00 per year with the homestead exemption.

Sixty percent of those voting must approve the assessment.The November ballot deadline for submission would be in late August.

Currently, the only excess levy approved by Huntington voters  benefit the Transit Authority. As Cabell County residents, excess levies are funded for Green Acres, the County Health Department , TTA and others.

These thought out, though minimalist in detail,  possible plans by council members and the administration apparently illustrate a caveat of working together agreement, especially since other than a small restoration adjustment council members have not submitted any counter proposal to the "flat"  Williams budget that includes a 3% pay raise for employees.

Saturday, council members will tour various venues in need of capital improvements.

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