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City Council discusses COVID-19 impact

COVID-19 related impacts to the city’s budget and airport, as well as the initial movement in the transition to a new city manager were up for discussion Tuesday as Morgantown City Council met via video conference.

Council voted unanimously to amend its currently operating budget down $110,714 to reflect a 90% drop in hotel occupancy. Projected hotel occupancy tax revenue was reduced by $150,000, resulting in reduced contributions to both BOPARC ($37,500) and the CVB ($75,000).

As part of the amendment, $108,500 will be pulled from the city’s contingency fund to cover a number of expenses, including $15,500 for a city council strategic planning session and $48,000 for the upcoming recruitment of a new city manager and moving expenses for the city’s new arts and culture director.

Given the looming transition in leadership — Brake’s last day on the job is expected to be
May 14 — coupled with the looming economic upheaval of the COVID-19 lockdown, Brake recommended and received council’s blessing to spend $12,500 to hire Julie Novak of the Novak Consulting Group as a facilitator for a strategic planning session to be held in June or July.

“My departure with this ongoing review of the finances, there are still so many unknowns. I don’t think we’ll have all the answers in June or July, but I think it’s important that council conduct a retreat and reframe this narrative,” Brake said.

The executive search for a new manager is expected to cost $25,000 and be a three month process.

Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli will take over for Brake on an interim basis while the search is conducted.

In other city news, Brake said the city’s air carrier, Southern Airways, has asked to cut the number of weekly flights by half for 81 days starting Friday as it struggles to fill seats due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Brake said Southern is requesting that it still receive its full portion of funding from the essential air service program, through which dollars are tied to enplanement

According to Brake, discussions are underway about waiving the enplanement threshold as the ongoing pandemic has dealt a serious blow to the entire air travel industry.

Council also:

Learned that the city will receive $251,333 in Community Development Block Grants as part of the CARES Act, though stipulations for how the COVID-19 relief dollars must be spent are not yet known.

Passed on first reading a zoning map amendment request from Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The amendment will reclassify property leased from WVU by Ronald McDonald House — as well as a neighboring property — from either R-1 (single family) and R-3 (multi-family) to B-2 (service business).

The request comes as the charity plans a substantial expansion in anticipation of the new WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital facilities currently being built.

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