How Are Elkins Sales Tax Revenues Being Spent?
Ever wonder how the city’s sales tax revenues are being spent? It’s an important question. Since the imposition of the tax in 2018, the city has collected about $1.6 million. Although we are only partway through the second year of the tax’s existence, it seems as though we can count on annual revenues of about $1 million. That’s a lot of money, with the potential to accomplish a great deal for Elkins.
What Sales Tax Money Can’t Do
There are some things it can’t do, however. The city can’t spend a dime of that money on anything to do with our sewer or water systems. State law requires that sewer and water utilities be run as standalone businesses, with no income other than user charges. (That’s why there had to be a sewer-rate increase last year, despite all this sales-tax revenue.)
Sales Tax Money is Restricted to the General Fund
Instead, municipal sales-tax revenues must go into a city’s General Fund, or basic operating fund. The General Fund covers things like street repairs, snow plowing, the police department, planning and zoning, building inspections, code enforcement, financial administration, customer service, legislative processes, downtown beautification, and the functioning and upkeep of city hall. For a sense of scale, the estimated annual sales tax revenue of $1 million represents about a 25 percent increase in the Elkins General Fund.
How Is This Money Being Spent?
So, how is that money being spent? A good snapshot comes from the fall of 2019, when City Clerk Jessica Sutton made numerous public presentations about progress on the City of Elkins 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. (You can scroll through the presentation below or download it here.)
As Sutton explained in the above presentation, about 80 percent of the $1.4 million that had then been collected (in around October 2019) was budgeted toward goals identified by council in the strategic plan, in categories like redevelopment and beautification; master facilities plan; improved communications; governance; and city boundary expansion.
Here are some of the budgeted strategic plan goals:
- $100,000 for demolishing dilapidated houses
- A new entry-level police officer position, at $125,000
- $200,000 in improvements to the public parking lot behind city hall
- $90,000 toward renovations at the Phil Gainer Community Center
- A $200,000 project to renovate the police department
- $75,000 toward needs assessment, equipment purchase, and staff for a new GIS office
- Publishing the city’s laws in a searchable format online, at a cost of $20,000
- $6,400 for analysis and planning for possible restructuring of city government
About 20 percent of sales tax revenues are going toward non-strategic-plan expenditures, including:
- Annual lease on four new police vehicles: $36,000
- 15 snowflake holiday decorations: $7,000
- Council chamber and other city hall renovations: $43,000
- Support for community partners (e.g., $5,000 to Humane Society’s feral cat spaying program): $18,000
The above are just highlights; the more exhaustive list of budgeted strategic plan goals from Sutton’s presentation is below.