by Shanet Clark 

Huntington -  City employees were conspicuous at Tuesday's Huntington City Council meeting.

About 20 city workers turned out in support as council voted to approve Mayor Williams' resolution R-66, "to pay American Rescue Plan Act funds in the amount of three thousand dollars to each employee as premium compensation for essential work performed during the national COVID health emergency."

The same amount was also granted to employees of the Huntington Water Quality Board, Municipal Development Authority, the  City Development Board and Parking Board, while part-time employees will receive $1,500.

In the work session immediately before the public session, a $1 million discrepancy was caught. The final language of the resolution and the total amount for the bonus plan was corrected, so that the typographic error of $3 million - the maximum outlay -was "amended to $2 million."

Williams pointed out that the technical language of the federal spending bill precluded bonuses going over $13 per hour, but stressed the combined effects of working through the pandemic and risks incurred by employees in the last two years. "When they asked me, I said every city employee is essential, and if not, what business do we have hiring them?"

Councilwoman Sarah Walling inquired about other any options for federal recovery spending in the city, and Mayor Williams outlined other revenue priorities. "Three categories are federally eligible. Premium pay, the recovery of lost revenues, and principal public works." Eight million dollars for the co-operative city and Marshall baseball stadium, expanded broadband access, critical storm water and sanitation investment, and $1 million for the Vernon Street 'West Edge' business incubator were all prioritized.

Williams was confident and enthusiastic, stating "this is a one time only (infusion of revenue) but we have had eight years of planning to set these priorities ... there will be more dirt flying for these projects over the next three years than over the last thirty years."  Councilman-at-Large Bob Bailey expressed support for the bonus plan before joining in the unanimous voice vote.

On second reading, a plan to buy a vacant structure for $80,000, plus $3,000 in past commitments, passed, allowing the Huntington Police Department to expand north across the alley between Sixth and Seventh avenues along 10th Street for officer parking.

In other business, resolution R-71 was moved by Tia Rumbaugh and seconded by Holly Mount. This will authorize the city to spend approximately $2 million dollars with a ten percent additional contingency set aside on improvements to the Hal Greer Blvd. from Third Avenue to Washington Blvd. However, this $2  million dollar city earmark will also leverage approximately an additional 500% in state and regional road funds.

Breanna Shell, from the City Planning Department, explained that nearly $11 million dollars of West Virginia Department of Highways and KYOVA regional funds will follow on the heels of the $2 million dollar expenditure.

"Hal Greer is a State route, and the intention was safety in the corridor," Shell said.

Mid-block crossings, pedestrian amenities, bicycle lanes, and a corrective re-alignment of the troublesome "Charleston Avenue and 10th Avenue offset" were announced. Enhanced safety of North / South and East / West drivers, "residential, business and economic development" are the major priorities, Shell said.

Changes should commence early in 2022. Councilman DuRon Jackson expressed strong support for the resolution before it passed unanimously.

A bust of city founder Collis P. Huntington sculpted by Carter Taylor Seaton will be unveiled as part of the Huntington sesquicentennial celebration on Tuesday, Oct, 19 at 10:00 a.m., and a newly commissioned "arts oriented" brand for Huntington, including a new logo and City seal, will be released the following Friday, Williams said. Both events will be held on the civic center plaza at Mountain Health Arena.