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Morgantown looks to invest one-time funds to improve city’s energy efficiency

MORGANTOWN — Of the just over $8.1 million in one-time investments, purchases, projects and allocations that make up the city’s capital escrow budget for the coming 2021 fiscal year, $3.1 million will come by way of energy saving bonds aimed at upgrading city roofs, windows, boilers and HVAC units.

On Tuesday, Morgantown City Council approved via resolution the city’s 2021 capital escrow budget and gave the green light to move forward in seeking out qualifications from interested energy service companies (ESCO) to lead the process.

Rob Steptoe, of Crews and Associates, explained that the bonds are meant to remain budget neutral. The ESCO will help the city put together terms through which the energy savings covers the annual debt service on the bonds, which outgoing City Manager put at about $11,000 annually.

“The debt that we have is relatively low. It’s a low burden,” he said. “There’s something to be said for economies of scale and handling all of this as one comprehensive package.”

Brake explained that the funds would be used to address energy efficiencies at city hall ($945,000),  Woodburn building ($800,000), public safety building ($645,000), city garage ($415,000), Met Theatre ($200,000) and 430 Spruce Street ($146,000).

As an example of  the need for such investment, Finance Director Jim Goff explained that the boiler in the old Woodburn school building has been in place since 1910.

The 2021 capital escrow budget also includes $431,794 in allocations to outside agencies and nonprofits.

In other budget news, council adopted a budget revision cutting $3,115,500 out of the city’s $39.7 million 2021 spending plan due to impacts from COVID-19. It also approved on first reading language implementing a 23% increase in city fire fees, to take effect July 1 for the purpose of maintaining 12 firefighter positions added three years ago through an expiring federal grant.

The creation of two LGBTQ+ liaison positions — one within city administration and one with the city’s police department — was also approved on first reading during Tuesday’s meeting.

The unpaid, volunteer positions are being considered at the request of the Morgantown Human Rights Commission and will eventually work with a larger liaison coordinating council, which will be made up of representatives of various minority groups within the city.

Don Spencer, who works with the city’s HRC, and Ash Cutright, president of Morgantown Pride, have explained that the creation of liaison positions will dramatically increase the city’s Municipal Equality  Index Program score.

“Morgantown is one of 500 cities in the United States that participates regularly in this program,” Spencer said, explaining the city has been involved for about six years. “We have moved from a rating of about 40 points out of 100, to about 80 points out of 100. We’re trying to move to the 100-point compliance level.”

Lastly, council approved a resolution implementing new rules, regulations and minimum standards for the Morgantown Municipal Airport.

Airport Director Jonathan Vrabel said the city had not updated its airport regulations since 1987.

“So we’re 33 years out of date,” he said.