By BRAD JOHNSON
ELKINS, W.Va. — Dozens of residents braved the rain Monday evening to attend the city of Elkins’ “1 Percent Sales Tax Public Event” at the Elkins-Randolph County YMCA.
Elkins City Council approved on its first of three required readings Nov. 2 a proposed ordinance that would create a 1 percent sales tax on city businesses. The second vote is set for Thursday.
City officials described Monday’s event as an informational session.
“It’s both for us to put information out there, and to solicit information from the public,” City Clerk Jessica Sutton said.
The lobby of the YMCA offered poster boards on easels printed with information about the city’s budget and other subjects.
“We wanted people to have a good idea of what the budget looked like now, so we have the fiscal year 2017 revenues and expenditures,” Sutton said. “Then what it means to impose the sales tax, what it’s going to apply to, what we can expect to generate from it and what other towns are already doing it.”
Five more boards presented options on what the 1 percent sales tax revenue could be spent on, and offered residents an opportunity to mark the choices most important to them.
“A lot of the ideas on the boards come from the 2015 comprehensive plan, where we had some public input there; they come from just general requests; and from calls we get that people would like to see happen with the city that right now we just don’t have the money for,” Sutton said.
Residents milled through the lobby Monday evening, placing stickers on the boards to show what options they preferred. As they entered, residents were given two sets of three stickers: green ones to represent their highest priority; yellow for their medium priority; and red for their low priority.
At one point during Monday’s event, the three options sporting the most “high priority” green stickers were “Annexation to Expand Elkins City Limits,”“Additional Police Presence” and “Swimming Pool or Splashpad.”
“Hopefully we’ll be able to look at the boards tonight after this is done and see what people’s priorities are,” Sutton said.
The event also featured a way to “write in” suggestions.
“If they don’t like the options on the boards, the very last board is an opportunity for them to write on a post-it note whatever we’ve missed, what we maybe didn’t think of or hasn’t come to our attention,” Sutton said.
After about 90 minutes of Monday’s event, the “write-in” board featured two post-it notes placed by residents, one reading “Need city manager” and another saying the revenue from the 1 percent sales tax should go to pay for the city’s new water plant, so the water rates can be lowered.
Some residents in attendance said they would rather have been given the opportunity to speak about the proposed sales tax at Monday’s meeting instead of being handed stickers and post-it notes.
Martha Metheny, a Taylor Avenue resident and the owner of Henry G’s Cafe with her husband, Jerry Metheny, said the boards contained too many options, adding she believed Monday’s event was just meant to “distract” the public while council pushes the new tax through.
“This is just like wishing,” she said, pointing at the boards. “It’s like, ‘What would you do if you had unlimited money?’ What we want is for them to say how much money there will be and what they will use it for, and how much will go to that.”
She also said Monday’s event was reminiscent of previous Elkins Main Street and ON TRAC community events.
“I recognize these topics from the last open house,” Metheny said. “This is all just recycled from that.”
Elkins Mayor Van Broughton said he hoped local citizens felt Monday’s event was worthwhile.
“We want their input, what they would like to see, but also to let them know where the money’s going and what it’s going to be used for,” he said. “I think that’s the big thing. They can also pick and choose what they’d personally like to see.”
Another city official indicated Monday that city council is not planning on specifically designating what the sales tax revenue funds will be used for — not before the third vote is taken, or ever.
“I don’t think the intention is to say specifically what we’re going to spend it on,” Sutton said during Monday’s event. “I think they’ll take the information that’s gathered from this event, and from any other feedback that they get, into the making of decisions in the future. But there’s no intention to say this is specifically what we’re going to spend the money on.”
Sutton said the state does not require towns to designate what the funds would be used for.
“You don’t have to designate it. Now, Bridgeport did,” she said. “They put it into a special fund designated for an indoor recreation complex. You’re not required to do that.
“The only requirement with us is either reducing or eliminating the B&O tax, and we’re eliminating the manufacturing (B&O tax). But they don’t require you to designate what the money’s going to go to. So our intention is just to put it in the general (fund) and not designate … (but) make decisions as they come up. Things come up, council changes, the citizenry, the makeup changes, so priorities are going to change. So we’re hesitant to say we’re only going to spend it on this one thing,” Sutton said.
The only requirement the state makes on such funding is that part of it be used to fund a city’s police or fire pensions if they are in peril, she said.
“If your police or fire pensions are under-funded, you have to spend some of that money (for the pensions), but ours are not,” Suttons said. “(City Treasurer) Tracy (Judy) has worked really hard these past few years to get those all paid up.”
Judy said the city has made it a priority to ensure both pension funds are up-to-date and secure.
“The council a few years ago made the decision to get them back where they need to be, because they were so far behind,” Judy said Monday evening. “We are on board to be where we need to be.”
Judy also noted the city should receive more in an annual state funding allocation now that the pensions are fully funded.
Sutton said Monday’s event gave residents a chance to put themselves in city councilmembers’ shoes.
“It’s nice to have them look and make those decisions, too, because that’s what council has to do all the time is make decisions about where the money is going to be spent,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to see this huge array of things that it could be spent on.”
Five of the informational boards at Monday’s meeting asked, “How do you want your sales tax monies spent?” The listed options included:
City of Elkins Operations and Facilities:
Compensation and Classification Plan Implementation
Compensation/Benefit Adjustments (attract and retain staff)
Upgrades and Maintenance at City Hall
Improvements to City Hall Parking Lot
Adding a City Arborist/Horticulturalist
Create a Fleet Management Plan
Transition Elections from Paper to Electronic Ballots
Annexation to Expand Elkins City Limits
Develop a Strategy to Increase Elkins Population Base
Develop a Branding Campaign to Promote Elkins
Enhance the “Gateways” along Major Corridors
Continue to Renovate or Remove Dilapidated Structures
Consider “Community Enhancement Districts” for Development Efforts
Partner with Broadband Providers to Offer Better Service in Downtown
Transportation, Infrastructure and Services:
Pedestrian Safety Improvements on Railroad Avenue
Improved Streetscape and Gateways into Downtown
Neighborhood Street Paving Projects
Prepare a City-wide Traffic Management Plan
Improved Curbside Pick-up (yard waste, recycling, bulk trash)
Increased Recyling Options (glass, elect.)
Improved Signage for Downtown Parking and Attractions
Youth and Recreation:
Swimming Pool or Splashpad
Additional/Improved Bike Paths and Pedestrian Trails
Skateboard Park Upgrades
Riverfront Improvements (trails, boating, fishing)
After School Programs at Community Center
Additional Sports Facilities/Opportunities
Dog Park or Other Focused Activity Parks
Public Safety and Wellness:
Additional Police Presence
Increased Code Enforcement Support
Youth Education about Drug Abuse and Prevention
Drug Abuse Treatment Center
Emergency Shelter and Preparedness (disaster response)
Improved Lighting and Security at City-owned Facilities
Revive and Create New Neighborhood Watch Programs
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