Airport project delay, BOPARC funding among topics discussed at Morgantown City Council meeting

MORGANTOWN — Funding discussions regarding the Morgantown Municipal Airport and the  Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC) dominated Tuesday July 10’s regular meeting of the  Morgantown City Council.

Council opened its first meeting of the fiscal year by voting unanimously to keep Mayor Bill Kawecki and Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis in their leadership roles.

Once down to business, the body opted to delay approval of an $4.8 million airport improvement budget aimed at funding what City Manager Paul Brake said will be “the single most important year in the development of the Morgantown Municipal Airport.”

Council didn’t ultimately take issue with the numbers as much as how they were presented. There was  confusion that the funds to be budgeted for the current fiscal year were in addition to the $5.2 million airport improvement budget from the previous year, which ended June 30.

Brake explained that is not the case. He said the airport improvement budget rolls over from year to year, meaning funds budgeted for projects that didn’t get done last year — $1 million for the runway protection zone, for example — have been moved over to this spending plan.

Council members asked Brake to reconfigure the document to clarify  what funds are being carried over and how the proposed airport improvement budget relates to the city’s overall budget, and specifically its capital escrow fund, from which the majority of the money will come.

Council also heard from more than a dozen members of the pubic speaking in support of additional funding for BOPARC, the majority of whom said they would support a dedicated tax levy for the city’s recreation board.

But the topic of how to present the levy touched off a lively debate when Brazaitis advocated for moving forward on a county-wide excess levy to address BOPARC’s infrastructure needs on the November ballot.

“I think this presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to go to the voters and ask them if they want to support BOPARC,” Brazaitis said, explaining recent turnout at council meetings indicate the support is there. “We’ve seen an extraordinary outpouring of support for BOPARC. Why not, at this moment, offer it to voters, because it would be a county-wide levy.”

Brazaitis explained that he’s meeting with the Monongalia County Commission today and could initiate the process. The county commission would have to approve place-ment of the levy on the county ballot.

Others on council, as well as Brake and City Attorney Ryan Simonton, said the city would be under an incredible time crunch to get the proposed levy to the Monongalia County Commission in time to have the language placed on November’s ballot. Especially considering BOPARC is still drilling down exactly how much funding would be needed and which projects should be prioritized.

“I’m not trying to quell the enthusiasm here whatsoever, but trying to talk about this in a logical way about how we can make the best presentation,” Brake said. “If you feel like let’s have the conversation with the county and we’ll figure out the rest of the details later, give that direction to me, because at this point there’s just preliminary estimates of what it would take to do these projects. If that’s where your comfort level is, then we’ll  proceed accordingly.”

Brake added, “but we’re in a bit of a quandary here that we’re in the eleventh hour.”

Others noted rushing ahead and not receiving the needed 60 percent approval from the voters would be a bigger setback. Better to join BOPARC leadership and  solidify data about  how much money is needed before presenting the levy to the county commission, said council member Jenny Selin, who also serves on the parks board.

The council ultimately voted 6-0 to have city administration work with BOPARC to put together a timetable and compile the relevant data.

Kawecki is attending a mayor’s conference and was not at the meeting.

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