The Times West Virginian

Local News

February 21, 2014

Fairmont budget described as ‘stable’

Public hearing set for March 11 meeting

FAIRMONT — Fairmont City Council held a work session on the next fiscal year’s budget Thursday. There will be a public hearing on the proposed budget at the March 11 city council meeting.

City Manager Jay Rogers said that the budget in its current form will work as a “guiding document.”

The city’s fiscal year will begin in July.

“At this point, knowing what we know about anticipated revenues, it’s hard to make any major changes to the budget,” Rogers said. “The budget is what the budget is. As we get into the end of the fiscal year, as we get into finding what revenues we’ll actually receive from the state, and what charges are going to come from PEIA and PERS, and we get to around the July, August time frame, we’ll really start to shape and form that budget.”

Rogers said that while the state budget is tight this year, the city budget should still hold relatively steady with past years.

“It’s no secret that the state of West Virginia is struggling right now to balance the budget,” Rogers said. “We do project that our own economy here, through the business and occupation tax and some other fees and service charges will remain steady, or perhaps see a slight increase.”

“It’s not as large as it’s been in some years, may not be as large as some other cities like us, but it’s still stable. We’re not talking about cutting services, or doing anything like that,” Rogers said. “We tend to forget that we’re not that far away from the fiscal years of 2008 and 2009, where municipalities all around the state were cutting services, laying people off, and we’ve never had to do that.”

The proposed general fund revenue for the next fiscal year is $14,065,105, with 66.3 percent of that money projected to come from taxes, primarily the business and occupation tax, 27.4 percent from charges for services, 3.4 percent from license and permit fees, 1.6 percent from fines, 0.3 percent from inter-governmental funds, and 1.0 percent from miscellaneous sources.

During the proposed budget presentation, there was a comparison of property taxes among the various Marion County municipalities. For a home with a market value of $100,000, Fairmont would have the highest property tax in the area, with $886, while Pleasant Valley would have the cheapest at $768.

“While it is the highest levy rate in the county, start looking at the difference between living in the city of Fairmont and paying $886, and the services you get,” Rogers said. “You have to look at the whole picture of what you’re providing.” Among services Rogers listed were a paid fire department, a large police force, building inspections, planning and public works.

Two major items of discussion were the pension programs and the debt service.

The city has changed its method for replacing city vehicles to replacing vehicles as needed, rather than replacing a large number of vehicles all at once.

“We’ve made provisions in public works to replace a truck or two at a time, so we don’t get caught again as a city in having to buy 10 or 12 vehicles all at once, and having that large debt service,” Rogers said. “That has been one of my goals since I became city manager: to reduce that debt service.”

A major concern for the city’s budget this year, and in coming years, Rogers said will be the fire and police pension plans.

The current pension plans include a provision that requires the city to contribute an increasing amount of the yearly budget to the pensions. Unfortunately, that funding scheme is unsustainable.

“The issue has to come from finding a way to get out of this pension,” Rogers said. “The long-winded answer that we see is through home rule, to be able to get the revenue projected from the sales tax, and let us close the plan we’re in now. Then we can get in the more stable plan that’s administered by the state, and get out of this.”

The state-administered plan wouldn’t result in the same budget restrictions that the current plan is projected to cause.

“I don’t know how any of us would sit down in front of the public and say, yes, we understand the police department is down 20 men, but we can’t afford the pensions, so we’re not going to hire them,” he said.

Rogers said that the city hopes to change pension plans so that the city can continue to be able to hire in the fire and police departments as needed.

“We’re here to provide services to the citizens. But unfortunately, we can’t provide services without people, and when you look at that with the police and fire department, it takes people to do that. And as those pensions show, it’s not just your current cost, but what your future cost is going to be. And that’s where we have that struggle.”

Rogers said that the city is hoping to gain classification as a home rule city. Fairmont’s home rule application has been made, and is available for viewing by the public at the city clerk’s office. The public hearing on the home rule plan will be on March 25.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.

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