City Council Meeting, Thursday, April 3rd 2014
by Michael Titus
-- Before the regular council meeting began, a special Public Hearing was held at 5:30 to hear citizen input on the Home Rule program (more about that in a separate article). On hand to help answer any questions was attorney Dale Steager, an expert on the Home Rule program.
* Mayor Williams first read out the proposed Home Rule Project. "Home Rule is a program whereas the State of West Virginia grant chosen municipalities that autonomy to do what the State does, essentially letting cities to act as 'mini-States.' This means that our City will be able to add up to a 1% sales tax for certain items sold within the city to help generate income for infrastructure. This particular tax does NOT affect: prescription or over-the counter medications, gasoline, clothing, food, or automobiles. The income generated from this program is designated for certain programs the City is audited on. Roads, better roads, ballparks, trails, the empty National Guard Building, and for the renovation or demolition of abandoned structures, parks and recreation, and to help bring in new businesses by cutting B&O taxes. There are, at present, four cities utilizing the Home Rule program: Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling, and Bridgeport. This pubic hearing was to hear concerns about Spencer making an application (which may even then not be granted) to the program. The State Legislature, said attorney Steager, considered the 4-city pilot program such a success that it hoped that eventually all municipalities could be included. Steager and Williams also talked about how quickly State and Federal grant monies were drying up. "We need to be progressive," said Williams. "We need to think ahead, and act progressively. We need to be a part of this."
* Next, Marketing Director Jacob Fetty, talked about 4 projects the City originally had in mind for the program:
1. Abandoned and/or derelict buildings
2. How the city procures architects, and engineering managers -- saving money.
3. Alter tax structure, lower B&O tax, generate new infrastructure funding, providing a better quality of life for all residents.
4. Preserve Fire District, and keep those costs low.
However, Fetty pointed out that, in the meantime, #2 and #4 on this list were no longer necessary, as the Legislature had already passed measures that rendered those two moot.
* Doc Cottle was the first public speaker. He was concerned about lack of funding for the City, and wondered if Home Rule would lead to replication of funds. Mayor Williams replied again that monies received from State and Federal programs were vanishing. Grants were harder to get, not just by the year but by the month.
* Local business owner John Hill rose to speak, asking if the new tax would be applicable to vendors coming in from out of town. Attorney Steager said they would. Fetty repeated what the tax would NOT affect. Hill said he was concerned about this tax on high-end items, saying "there could be loss of sales." Williams replied that lowering the B&O taxes would offset this, and didn't foresee any loss of sales, only gains. "Well over 1/2 of sales in Spencer come from out of Roane County," he explained. Hill said he was still concerned, before he left the meeting.
* Another local business owner, Steve Hughes asked "Why not just raise the B&O tax instead? I think taxing people extra will send them out of town to shop." Mayor Williams replied that studies have shown that this is not the case with the 4 cities that have already adopted the program. He cited the example of Charleston now having alternate funding sources for their Civic Center.
* Bernerd Taylor said, off-topic, that there needed to be handicapped parking around the Courthouse. Mayor Williams stated that was being worked on. Williams then called for ideas about how, if Home Rule is implemented, the monies might be spent. "We're always open to your ideas. We need your ideas."
* John Pena spoke about the need for ball fields. "We need help with them. A nice, well-lit, clean ball field would be a boon for the town." Williams heartily agreed. "Would there be the possibility of tournaments?" he asked. Pena. "It certainly is," replied Pena. "We work hard to help the kids out, and want to give them the best place possible to play." Williams and Pena discussed having a new ball field constructed on the property above Wal-Mart, with bright lights overlooking the city. "Field of Dreams," they both called it, and both, along with Andrew Miller, were enthusiastic about the prospect. "I think we'll see more youth, and parental, participation with something like this," said Pena.
* "How will this change city council," asked someone from the small crowd (there were about 30 people present for this public hearing). "It won't. City council will stay the same as it's always been." Attorney Steagle added "You can't add anything to Home Rule without a public hearing first."
* Tommy Jackson was concerned about the 1% tax increasing over time. Williams explained that the State Legislature had set that figure as the maximum. It could even be less.
* Local artist Jeff Fetty said: "I'm in favor of this. I'm proud to have grown up in Spencer. I'm proud to have lived here, and to still live here. If paying a little bit more helps keep the town going, I'm willing."
-- That ended the public hearing part of the council meeting, as a brief recess was taken before the regular meeting.
Regular Meeting Agenda:
* Call to Order, Prayer and Pledge. Approval of Minutes of Regular Meeting on March 13, 2014, and special meeting on March 20, 2014. Motion approved
*Approve Water Distribution System Upgrade Project Drawdown #20. This was for $27, 478.96. The monthly interest of $700.00 is included. Motion approved.
*Approve Drawdown #2 on Governor's Community Participation Grant. This refers to construction/improvements on the warehouse behind Wal-Mart that rests against the bank. The cost is $20,000 total. The required amount for completion, $4,696.00 was approved.
*Approve Resolution for Water Project Line of Credit. $250,000 available for different locations. Rob Miller stated that some water lines can be repaired, some will need replaced. The project will start in May and continue through September, as workers are available to go from place to place. A line of credit through FNB (a USDA requirement), in the sum of $100,000 was requested for authorization. Motion approved.
*Approve on 1st reading an Ordinance for the City of Spencer to submit an application to participate in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II. Motion approved, and date set for Second Public Hearing is Thursday, April 17 at 4pm.
*Discuss rules and regulations for downtown parking, metered parking, and citations. Changes are coming. Parking meters on Market and Church Street will soon take a quarter per hour. New tickets will be printed, with higher costs for violations. The two-hour meters in town will be followed more closely. If you move your vehicle to avoid a ticket, without good reason, the violation will be $10.00 instead of the now $5.00 fee. Vehicles which accrue unpaid violations will be booted, then towed. New signage will be visibly placed as warnings. This is going to happen soon. Motion approved.
*Report on police activity for March 2014. This was held over until the next regular meeting, but Mayor Williams did report that Brian Hickman will be returning to the Spencer Police Department.
*Marketing Director Report and Update. Director Jacob Fetty discussed more improvements to Ben's Run, adding that another mile had been added. Fetty also mentioned that Heritage Days was quickly approaching, to be held on Friday and Saturday (May 2nd and 3rd). He said there would be a quilt show, live music, and more, and it would be great fun for all residents. Approved.
*Report from Rob Miller/ongoing projects. Miller stated that all projects were going well. He also mentioned Ben's Run, saying that they were starting on some of the smaller trails. Again, city workers were on and off this project, as time -- and other demands on their hectic schedule -- permitted. Miller said that they were working to get the city pool opened by the end of the month. He stated that it took about 30 days to get the pool ready for the public. Miller added that more hot-patching work would be done this month, but that people should remember that Main Street, Market Street, and East Main Street were State Roads, not City roads. Still, the city crew was on the job.
*City of Spencer Updates for the Safety Program. No updates.
*Old business. None to discuss.
*Approve Financial Statements from the City of Spencer and Spencer Waterworks for the month of February 2014. Motion approved.
-- Before the regular meeting was adjourned, Mayor Williams reminded all of the following important dates:
1. City of Spencer Easter Egg Hunt - April 18th at 5pm.
2. Spring Clean Up Week -- Saturday, April 26th.
3. City Auction, at the National Guard Armory building, Monday, April 28th, at 10am.
4. Lay-the-Levy (approve levy from county commission) on Tuesday, April 15th at 11:30 and the Annual SDA Meeting at 12 noon.
Mark these dates down on your calendars! Meeting adjourned.