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$3 million in additional revenue in proposed Charleston budget

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston City Council members got their first detailed look at the 2013-2014 city budget Tuesday evening, which, if they approve it, would bring in $3.1 million more than the city is expected to earn this fiscal year.

City Manager David Molgaard said much of the additional money comes from a revenue increase from business and occupation taxes of about $2.7 million. Council members approved $84.15 million for the current year's budget, which runs through June 30.

The $3.1 million in extra revenue would go toward paying a full year of wage increases estimated at $1.1 million. Those raises were granted in October.

Monday's proposed budget is separate from Mayor Danny Jones' announcement earlier Tuesday that he wanted to eliminate or reduce some business and occupation taxes and raise sales taxes to renovate the Charleston Civic Center.

Molgaard said that council has been working on next year's budget since before Christmas.

But news of the Civic Center renovations just came Tuesday. 

A home-rule program that gives Charleston the latitude to take on expanded powers -- usually ones reserved for state government -- expires in July. To help the Civic Center, Jones said Charleston wanted to make their tax changes before the current home-rule program expires, in case a new program didn't give cities as much ability to change taxes.    

Jones said that the proposed changes to help the Civic Center could generate more than $3.5 million a year.        

Council members would need to approve both a proposed budget and any reduction/elimination of B&O taxes and an increased sales tax.

Molgaard said Tuesday night that if the city's proposals to help the Civic Center were approved, then any pending city budget would have to be amended.      

Under the city budget proposed Tuesday night, Molgaard said health-care expenses would also cost $2.1 million, police and fire pensions would cost $0.4 million and Public Employees Retirement System payments would cost $0.2 million.

Reducing the city's outlay projects then offsets the $3.1 million, Molgaard said. The city reduced equipment purchases by $900,000 and are experiencing lower lease payments totaling $264,000. The proposed budget has no proposed salary increases or hidden costs built into it, he said.

Finance Director Joe Estep said the proposed budget reflects that Charleston is making more revenue than it was the same time last year.

"The accumulation has been consistently strong all year long," Estep said.

During a meeting of council's Finance Committee Tuesday, council members briefly discussed the proposal. Councilman Tom Lane questioned the increase in health-care expenses over previous years.

Molgaard said more city employees claimed serious health issues last year and said that in previous years, the city has been lucky to have a relatively healthy work force.

"These are things that we couldn't deal with in preventative ways," he said. "Health-care costs are ultimately going to trend up."

Estep said council members could present the approved budget to the state Auditor's Office no later than March 28. He expects them to vote on the budget March 21.

Also during the meeting, council members agreed to pay TRC Engineers Inc., $280,000 to engineer and design a section of the Kanawha Trestle Walk and Bikeway System.

The engineers would look at removing one lane of vehicle traffic from Magic Island on Kanawha Boulevard to Patrick Street. It would add two bike lanes and a walking path.

Molgaard said the goal is to expand the trestle system to Capitol Street Market and over to the state Capitol Complex. Those plans are shelved until council members can raise about $20 million to revitalize the project, he said.

Council members also agreed to apply for a $33,000 grant to hire a fulltime victim services coordinator at the Charleston Police Department. The grant is provided by the Victims of Crime Act Grant Program.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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