Morgantown City Council approves approximately $11.3 million in congressional spending requests, rejects downtown safety request

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown City Council will ask for congressional grants to help fund city infrastructure and safety improvements around the Morgantown Rail Trail but not around downtown.

As part of approximately $11.3 million in requests that include lighting improvements on the Morgantown Rail Trail and the Morgantown Municipal Airport runway extension, council unanimously approved six out of seven resolutions requesting congressionally directed spending for the projects. As a result of a 3-3 vote, Council also voted to reject a resolution requesting approximately $200,000 in funding to fund security camera installations around downtown Morgantown.

“I know we had discussions on various occasions, a program like a cahoots program that is used in Eugene, Oregon, and this level of funding would be pretty similar, to pretty much, what we would probably need,” said Councilor Brian Butcher, explaining why he voted against the security camera resolution.

Butcher made the first motion to discuss not approving the security camera resolution, with the idea that funding for other safety initiatives can be used elsewhere. Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble voted against the resolution due to the incomplete surveillance system that has funds dedicated through American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, with Councilor Ixya Vega voting against the resolution as part of the vote. Mayor Jenny Selin and Councilors Bill Kawecki and Dave Harshbarger each voted in favor with the idea that including the resolution would open up opportunities for funding to support downtown safety.

“What we have here is an opportunity to fill in the gap that we’ve already started, which would give us a better overview of the difficulties that we may have in this particular location,” said Councilor Kawecki ahead of his vote of approval. “And we know from past experience that there are funds that are more readily available for the hardware,” he said.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the other six resolutions, which were valued at close to $11.3 million. These included requests for approximately $7 million towards the Morgantown Municipal Airport’s Runway Extension project, $2 million towards affordable housing and green space efforts, $1 million in lighting for the Morgantown Rail Trail, and $1.3 million combined for the Morgantown Employee and Family Health Clinic, Morgantown Lock and Dam trash removal, and LED lighting for The Metropolitan Theater.

“This is a long and ongoing issue; we’re having trouble getting grants; we’ve put this in many times; this is the time, and this is what we really need,” said Deputy Mayor Danielle Trumble on the vote in favor of lighting for the rail trail.

Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell addressed council after the vote to discuss the concerns over staffing and safety concerns involving downtown. He mentioned an increase in new hires taking place in 2023, with communications improving with the city police department and downtown business owners with the help of newly implemented foot patrols taking place around downtown. While there are still goals to improve downtown safety through ARP-funded surveillance and other efforts, Powell stated that steps are being taken in the right direction to make it safe for business owners and residents, with support from city council.

“I think it’s working out really well; I mean, it’s obviously not a permanent way to address the problem,” said Powell on the current downtown safety efforts. “But, at this point, it’s the most effective way with what we have,” he said.