MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Annexation is not just a theoretical possibility in Morgantown, but seen as a necessity, according to the city manager.
“We need to have that conversation and with the appropriate decision makers,” Brake said. “And we need to do our due diligence. We can’t just say that we need to do this, but say that this is the tax dollars that will be generated, these are the services that we’ll provide, and this is why we should be doing this.”
A consulting firm is already analyzing the data, the benefits, and the minutiae of potentially absorbing three square miles worth of land.
“It’s a considerable number crunching sort of activity,” he said. “Because, we’re talking about a prospective three square miles, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But it’s a lot of properties. It’s a lot of data that has to be aggregated.”
It’s unclear what precisely is part of those three square miles, but several city councilors discussed areas that included the Mileground, Suncrest, Mylan, and Marjorie Gardens during their campaigns last year.
Brake said annexation needs to be a win-win-win scenario, citing mutual gain for city residents, the property owners being annexed, and the business owners as well.
“This is not meant as any disparaging sort of comment, but when you have a professional, full-time fire department, it translates into lower property insurance costs,” Brake said.
Not only is that fire protection a huge gain for businesses, but Brake said the department is in even better shape after adding 12 firefighters through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s SAFER grant last year.
“They should be looking at what the difference is of the type of fire service when you don’t have a full-time fire department where you have to call people up and have them respond to a fire scene as opposed to our firefighters that are ready and able immediately when that call to service comes,” Brake said.
B&O taxes were down last year, but the budget size increased. For this reason, and among others, Brake said one of the best means of growth for the budget and local economy is annexation — generating more revenue through a bigger base of people paying user fees to the city.
“It’s not an income tax,” he said. “It’s a fee. It’s a head count with the numbers that are potentially added, but I don’t see that increasing maybe modestly in the future.”
Brake also said a trade-off in the future in how revenues are prioritized isn’t out of the question — reducing B&O taxes while simultaneously adding a sales tax.
“One of the other potentials that’s out there that we haven’t formerly talked about is a sales tax,” he said. “If we allocate that very specific… and be very clear about that, very transparent. Much like the municipal service fee that says that if we start collecting the sales tax, then part of that will be dedicated for this type of service.”
To clarify, Brake said that a formal discussion on a sales tax still has not taken place.
Brake also said he’s confident that property values will continue to increase, providing further value to living in Morgantown.