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‘First wave’ of budget revisions sees Morgantown cut $3.1M from 2021 plan

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown City Council approved on first reading what outgoing City Manager Paul Brake called “the first wave” of changes to the upcoming 2021 city budget based on steep cuts in revenue brought on by efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to amend the city’s $39.7 million 2021 spending plan down by $3,115,500.

It also voted unanimously to give  Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli the “interim” tag following Brake’s departure for Royal Oak, Mich. in mid-May.

Muzzarelli, who joined the city on July 9, 2018, will receive a bump in pay, from $50.97 hourly to $59.17 while in the interim role.

As for COVID-19’s impact on city finances, Brake pointed out that a recent National League of Cities survey indicated half the cities questioned with a population of 50,000 or less anticipate making cuts to public services while about 26% indicated they will have to furlough employees.

“Fortunately, in this initial plan, this doesn’t entail a reduction in force,” Brake said. “At this point in time there are still too many unknowns to know if this will be enough or if we will be required to make deeper cuts. This is just an initial start.”

Just some of the cuts included in this initial 2021 budget amendment include:
Elimination of employee cost of living raises ($353,000)
Not filling vacancies in the city’s engineering, planning and street departments ($312,040) and police department ($314,100)
The elimination of overtime based on department head feedback ($191,750)
The elimination of new full time positions in code enforcement and urban landscaping ($111,630)
A freeze on funding for BOPARC and the library system at 2020 levels and a $35,650 reduction in funding for Mountain Line.

Along with the $3,115,500 budget revision, the city has also reached out to its employees to consider taking temporary, voluntary reductions in hours or salary. Further, the city has asked employees eligible for retirement to consider doing so.

Brake reiterated that those offerings are voluntary and that no estimations about employee participation were included in the budget revision.

Again, he said, the city is simply trying to avoid laying people off.

“We may be forced to do that in the future, but we can mitigate that as much as possible by employees reducing their hours or salary increases they’ve received, or individuals retiring,” Brake said.  

As part of the budget amendment, council  allocated a total of $25,000 — $15,000 for downtown initiatives and $10,000 to assist the placement of the areas unsheltered at Motel 6 during the COVID-19 health crisis. Those funds are offset by cuts to Main Street Morgantown’s facade improvement program.

In other city news, council also passed a $110,714 budget amendment for the current fiscal year, which reflects a 90% drop in hotel occupancy and a $150,000 cut to hotel occupancy tax collection.

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.

Council voted 5-2 to pass the amendment, with councilors Ron Dulaney and Zack Cruze voting in the minority. Both said that, given the circumstances, they couldn’t support spending $15,500 and bringing in an outside facilitator to run a planning session. 

Lastly, council voted 7-0 to maintain the city’s levy rates at current levels — the maximum allowable by the state.

Class II, or residential, property within the city will be taxed 25 cents on every $100 of assessed value, while Class IV, commercial, property will be taxed 50 cents on every $100.

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