HUNTINGTON — A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will pay for more than 1,000 hours of overtime in the Huntington Police Department over the next three years for operations related to violent crimes.
A resolution to apply for and accept the grant, called Project Safe Neighborhoods, was approved Monday night by the Huntington City Council during its regular meeting.
The grant is for a total of $69,000 and does not require any matching funds from the city.
Huntington Police Chief Ray Cornwell said the grant amount, as well as how it is to be used, is determined by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.
He said last year the focus was technology and the funds were used to purchase investigative software for the detective bureau.
Cornwell said this year the department has been directed to use the grant funds for overtime reimbursement to support operations related to drug and violent crimes including investigations, directed enforcement operations and warrants sweeps.
Cornwell said a total of $64,700 will be used to cover 1,619 hours in overtime for work throughout the city related to violent crime from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2023.
Of the remaining funds, $500 will be used for advertising, such as billboards, and $3,800 will be used to send three people to the annual Project Safe Neighborhood Conference, if allowed this year. Cornwell said these are requirements stipulated by the grant.
In other business, council approved two ordinances that continue the city’s fee and tax relief package originally passed by council in March 2020, at the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of this package, B&O taxes for restaurants and retail shops in the city, which typically sit at .25%, have been canceled as well as the $20-a-month refuse fee for city residents. Both the B&O tax and the refuse fee will remain at zero until March 31, 2021, unless extended again by council.
While those affected by the passing of these ordinances were not able to attend the meeting due to COVID-19 restrictions, two Huntington business owners, one from Austin’s Homemade Ice Cream and the other from T.K. Dodrill Jewelers, expressed their support for the B&O cancellation ordinance in emails submitted to the city.
Both owners stated that the elimination of the B&O tax over the past year has helped their businesses survive during these difficult times.
During the meeting, council members were also the given financial report for December 2020.
Rick Montgomery, from the city’s finance department, said as of the end of December the city was halfway through the current fiscal year.
Thus far, the city has collected $36.6 million (70% of its projects budget) in revenue and expended $30.4 million (41% of its projects budget).
He added that each of the city’s major departments — administration and finance, police, fire and public works — have all expended less than 50% of their total budgets.
Councilwoman Tia Rumbaugh commended Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and the finance department on making it halfway through the difficult fiscal year with $6 million in the black.
Given this information, Rumbaugh asked Williams if he would consider establishing a budget line for the development of a municipal-based child care program.
“One of the issues over the last few years that the opioid epidemic has laid bare is that there is a strain on our child care system,” said Rumbaugh, who owns a child care facility in Huntington. “Even more so during the pandemic we found that our frontline workers … they needed child care and it’s one of those support systems that was really lacking in our community.”
Williams said he was hesitant to have a government entity interfere with what the private sector is able to provide; however, he added that he understood the need as well how difficult child care has become during the pandemic. He made a pledge to Rumbaugh that he would look into the feasibly of her request.