Weirton signs off on fiscal budget

WEIRTON – City officials aren’t taking chances in their proposed budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

At Tuesday’s final budget workshop, council signed off on a balanced spending plan that maintains the city’s contingency fund as well as a budget stabilization fund.

General fund revenues have been budgeted at $15,088,365 for the new fiscal year, with another $122,643 in coal severance money penciled in as well.

They’ll be getting about $30,000 more next year in ad valorem tax revenue from Brooke and Hancock counties than they’d originally expected, but chose to put that money in the contingency fund rather than spend it leaving them with just a little more than $333,300 in reserves.

City Manager Valerie Means characterized the plan, which must be approved by council and then submitted to the state tax department for its approval, as “conservative.”

“We’re always cognizant, watching where our revenues come in and make sure we don’t exceed any limitations we might have,” she said.

So far, no money has been budgeted for employee pay raises or bonuses. Means said negotiations with the city’s three bargaining units continue, and it’s far too soon to say what, if any, changes the new agreements might bring.

But this year, council tentatively agreed to use $840,000 in municipal fee revenue to pave streets throughout the city. In the past, Community Development Block Grant funding had been used in income-eligible areas, but, with that program in doubt, council opted for a seven-way split of the municipal fee money and signaled its intent to earmark any CDBG funding the city does receive for true community development purposes.

Because of delays in receiving federal approvals to pave streets in Ward 4 with money from the city’s 2012-13 CDBG fund allotment, that work will be done this spring. Once that work is done, Ward 4 would be on the same paving schedule as the rest of the city.

Council also refused to set CDBG money aside for a new fire truck, suggesting that the department should be earmarking its share of Brooke County fire levy revenue for that purpose.

“Community development is community development,” Ward 6 Councilman Dave Dalrymple said. “I never thought of buying a fire truck as a community development project.”

Dalrymple also questioned several of the items on the fire department’s wish list that council did allocate money for, but others said that while they thought the money could be better spent, they’d asked department heads to prioritize their spending needs.

“We told them to do that, and I feel obligated to (accept) their recommendations, Ward 2 Councilman Chuck Wright said.

A department spokesman said the items on their wish list were all safety issues, including an $18,000 expenditure for mobile software fire apparatus “that will help us manage fires (and) tie us into dispatch, it makes us more efficient in the field,” as well as several thousands more to equip trucks with LED lights.

“But there are a lot of large expenditures still looming out there,” Dalrymple said, adding that with new fire trucks costing in the half-million dollar range, it’s important to make good use of levy money while they have it.

Finance Director Tom Maher, meanwhile, said council’s no-frills, conservative approach makes good budget sense.

“We have to be cognizant of our revenues, the limitations of each revenue source and be aware of what is taking place in the state Legislature,” he said. “Looking at our revenue lines, we were able to get a very good idea of what we’re going to have the ability to do.”

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