CARES Act funds, fiscal discipline signals the beginnings of a Morgantown comeback

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The city of Morgantown has received $6,912,026.93 in CARES Act money to reimburse the costs of COVID-related expenses. Most of the money has gone to police and fire payroll reimbursement, according to interim city manager Emily Muzzarelli.

The funds have also been used for building modifications, cleaning supplies/services and personal protective equipment.

Since March, Muzzarelli detailed the financial cuts while the city continued to offer services.

“We’ve been on a hiring freeze and a spending freeze and eliminating any expenditures to the essentials,”Muzzarelli said,”I think nearly all the department are working down multiple staff and projects have been put on hold.”

Muzzarelli recognizes COVID-related budget woes are not over, she wants council to consider reinstating some cuts made earlier this year. Some items under consideration are some promotions, part-time to full-time changes, frozen positions, and funding the COLA for city employees.

“We’ve put nearly all of the reimbursements from the CARES Act money into contingency and financial stabilization,” Muzzarelli said,”We now have a fully funded contingency fund.”

Being able to triple the balance in the contingency fund during the pandemic will help secure the future as the pandemic wears on.

“We went from $350,000 approximately, to about $3.5 million in contingency fund,” Muzzarelli said,”Prior to COVID we had about $1 million.”

Councilor Zack Cruze who also serves as the chairman of the Community Policing & Citizens Review Committee expressed support for adding a social worker to the city payroll or embed them with police.

“When Huntington, West Virginia embedded a social worker within their police force they saved over $500,000 per year,” Cruze said,”Alexandria, Kentucky saved over $50,000 per year when they embedded a social worker.”

Jenny Selin, councilor from the Fourth Ward said keeping up with ongoing maintenance can save the city money.

“Tree maintenance, which people may not think that’s the most important thing in comparison with roofs or heating systems,” Selin said,”But, some things, just like those things still need some care.”

Council will consider the matter further at their next regular meeting.