HUNTINGTON — With a focus on increasing revenue, the city of Huntington announced it finished the recent fiscal year $2.9 million in the black.
That means the city can now put away money for its rainy-day fund and also allocate money toward planned projects such as a new fire station on 20th Street, a new city service garage and wheelchair accessibility upgrades to City Hall.
City Assistant Finance Director Angela Shockley asked for two budget revisions from City Council members Monday. The first budget revisions of each fiscal year are to adjust projected balances for the general fund and coal severance fund to the two funds' actual balance for the year.
Through her request, Shockley reported to council members that the coal severance fund had increased approximately $32,000 because of an uptick in revenue. The general fund was also increasing because the city finished the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, with $2,946,748.
The positive revenue was a result of the city's focus on precise budgeting, aggressive collections and detecting unreported income, said Finance Director Kathy Moore.
"Our increased efforts in collecting unreported revenue and increased efforts over the last two years with our expenditures and our revenue together ... says we are pretty well on target," Moore said.
Since becoming finance director two years ago, Moore said she has focused on getting the city's revenue and expenditures in good financial standing. In her first year, she worked with the city's departments and divisions to cut down on unnecessary spending and ensure they stayed within budget.
For fiscal year 2018-19, Moore said she focused her attention on the city's revenues. This included contracting with DataMax, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based corporation that recovers unreported income for municipalities and corporations.
During the course of that year, DataMax pursued businesses that did not pay their business and occupation taxes, city service fees and refuse fees. Since those taxes are self-reported, it has been difficult for the city to recover that money in the past, Moore said. It's still too early to assign a dollar amount to the recovered accounts that DataMax was able to find, but their work has been significant, she said. The city also contracts with Rossman & Co., an Ohio-based collection agency, to go after people with known delinquent accounts.
The city's financial outlook hasn't always been this promising. Just a few years ago, the city made layoffs when pension payments were miscalculated and some departments, like police and fire, went over budget.
It's gratifying to see how the city has bounced back from that uncertain time, said council member Joyce Clark, who represents Westmoreland in District 1.
"It was probably the worst financial position in my nine years on the council. We had to struggle and make some cuts just to keep the city solvent," Clark said. "It's been a hard road to get to this point, and I have to give a lot of credit to the mayor and this council for kind of knuckling down and saying, 'Look, we have to get this done.'"
Through the first budget revision for fiscal year 2019-20, council members agreed to increase the actual fund balance for both the general fund and coal severance fund.
They agreed to put an additional $500,000 toward economic development, which will help cover the cost of the former ACF property. This is on top of $601,000 council members allocated in March. The Huntington Municipal Development Authority recently purchased the former industrial property with overall plans to redevelop that entire area into the Highlawn Business Innovation Zone (H-BIZ).
Council members put an additional $500,000 toward insurance programs for high-cost medical claims. This is on top of $9.7 million that was already allocated.
They also added $1.5 million toward capital projects, which will include a new fire station, a new city garage and wheelchair upgrades to City Hall. This adds to $2 million the city set aside for those projects previously.
The city hopes to break ground on a new fire station at the corner of 9th Avenue and 20th Street by spring 2020. There also are hopes to remodel the recently purchased Huntington Barbour Armory on Virginia Avenue into a new city service garage. The current city service garage doesn't have adequate space to service fire trucks.
The city also wants to remodel the 5th Avenue side of City Hall to add a wheelchair lift entrance. The current wheelchair entrance is on the basement level, making it more difficult to get to the mayor's office and City Council chamber.
The city's contingency fund, also known as the rainy-day fund, increased by $639,000. This is on top of $4.1 million already budgeted.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.