Wood County Commission starts work on new budget

PARKERSBURG – Facing flat revenues again this year, rising costs and funding requests from community organizations seeking help,Wood County commissioners began work sessions Friday on the 2013-2014 budget.

The special meeting included review of potential revenues. Meetings with county elected officials on their budget requests begin Monday. The budget must be sent to Charleston for review by March 28.

The county, along with the municipalities, state and boards of education set their levy rates on the third Tuesday in April. The county’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The total budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year was $19,313,381.

Commissioners said county officials and department heads are aware revenues are flat and, for the most part, have been cooperative in holding the line, with most asking for the same amount of funding as last year.

Commission President Wayne Dunn said his biggest concern going into the budget is whether there will be continued funding available for outside agencies.

“Being able to support all the efforts that we have in the past that make a good community, the quality of life issues we have always supported and strongly supported, just having the money to be able to do that is a concern. We collect money wherever we can. We have had basically no increase in revenue and that’s getting tighter every year. We have been very efficient and frugal and been able to save a lot of money in the past few years, but as the price keeps going up, we just don’t have the extra revenues coming in,” Dunn said. “It has been a very static economy for four years, which is a slow spiral down, in fact. So we have to have revenues coming in, but we don’t. The bottom line is it’s just dollar in, dollars out, and what that does for us,” the commission president said.

Back in December, Wood County Assessor Rich Shaffer predicted a flat revenue year, and he said that still holds true.

“For at least the last four years revenues have been relatively flat. That basically means the total value has stayed about the same. Real estate sales have not indicated large increases in value on property. Property values here have not gone down in most areas; they have in some. Sales have indicated values have remained pretty stable,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said there hasn’t been a lot of new business coming in to the area. Construction in Vienna, while good news, will not translate into new tax revenue until next year’s budget. “It won’t go on the books until July 1, which is the beginning of the new assessment period, and the revenue would show up in the 2014-2015 year,” Shaffer said.

“In previous years, increases in the tax base as a whole have gone up mostly due to new construction, and when new business comes in there is more competition in the market and home prices usually go up; it’s supply and demand,” the assessor said. Officials said construction costs have gone up, at least in part due to rising gasoline, labor and transportation costs.

“We had 84 new homes built this year in the county. Last year there were 78,” Dean Cottrell, chief appraiser for the assessor’s office, said. “The numbers of new builds is well below the average we used to see of about 120.”

Aware of the flat income, Shaffer said he asked for the same amount of funding for his office as last year.

“There are some increases in health insurance we had to figure in, of course, but we have no control over that. But the items I do have control over are the same as last year,” the assessor said.

The county has been notified an upgrade to the assessor’s appraisal system this year will cost $13,869.

“It is a statewide mandate for the computer system. The state did ask the assessors if we wanted to go to this system, and the majority said they would. It provides a lot more flexibility, and will increase the effectiveness of our office. It is a database for appraisals. The current system is more static. This system will allows us to do additional research and have additional types of comparisons,” Shaffer said.

According to records, the county has $1,233,000 in rainy day funds; another $1,515,000 in special building, $90,000 in current year contingencies and about $1 million in general county for operating expenses for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The health insurance increase for the year has been proposed at 10.73 percent. County officials said Mark Schwendeman, an insurance consultant who has been under contract with the county since 2007, will be working on options for the county, trying to get those costs down.

County officials were unsure whether there would be funds to give employee pay raises this year.

“It’s definitely going to be tight. We will do everything we can to try and get the county employees a pay raise, but I don’t know if that’s going to be possible or not,” said Commissioner Steve Gainer.

“We are just getting started. We are reviewing the year we just had. We were able to do a minor increase to employee pay last year. We are looking at health care costs and we want to pass any savings we see in that along to our employees. We try to provide a good living wage to our staff,” Commissioner Blair Couch said.

Budget requests include the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department asking for $94,000 from the commission for the new year; the Multi-Cultural Festival has asked for $7,500. The festival receives 0.5 percent of the county hotel/motel tax revenue. But festival organizers say “a set amount of funding will ease the uncertainty” they face each year. The Humane Society has asked for a $27,135 increase in its contract for services. Even though Regional Jail Authority lowered the per-day rate from $48.80 to $48.25, the county continues to see its bill go up to around the $2 million mark annually. The Little Kanawaha Resource Conservation & Development Council is asking for $3,500 in annual sponsorship; the Wood County Historic Landmarks Commission is seeking $8,000, and Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council is asking for $13,079.

The West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board has voted to increase the employer contributions to 14.5 percent as of July 1, a .5 percent increase. The Wood, Washington, Wirt Interstate Planning Commission is asking for $15,267; the Mid-Ohio Valley Fellowship Home is asking for $5,000.

The sheriff tax office’s new budget total requested is $742,756, last year the department was budgeted $664,684; Sheriff’s law enforcement budget request notes the federal Transportation Safety Administration reimbursement for security at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport is now $20 per hour underfunded, down from $22.96. The request also notes rising costs of training/transportation, increased costs for blood testing, increased costs for investigations, rising cost of materials, adding a second K-9 dog; increasing fuel costs and the need for a fireproof filing cabinet for employee records as well as increased insurance deductibles. The department’s total budget request for the new year is $3,629,094, last year’s budgeted amount was $3,455,673. Sheriff’s department process service budget request is $145,855 compared to $140,437 last year. The sheriff asked for a $1,000 pay increase for all law enforcement and corrections employees.

“This is to assist our employees with rising costs which include the additional payroll taxes they now pay,” according to the budget request. The sheriff’s office Holding Center budget request for the new year is $759,288, last year $746,613, noting part of the increase is to “bring salaries in line.” The Home Confinement budget request is $327,393, last year the department was budgeted at $212,214.

West Virginia University Extension Office requested $132,854, last year’s budget was $133,127. Wood County Emergency Services is asking for $114,627, last year’s budget was $83,255; Circuit Clerk Carole Jones asked for salary increases, and additional funds for overtime, travel, supplies/records books, the total request is $664,448, last year’s budget was $663,406; County Clerk Jamie Six is asking for $932,714, last year $934,727; E911, this year’s request $1,864,051, last year $,1,957,271; Coroner, this year’s request $4,550; last year $5,250; assessor’s request $600,171, last year budgeted $581,956; Emergency Services, $114,627, last year’s budget $83,255. Prosecutor Jason Wharton requested for additional for cost of living salary increases, total budget request $1,235,784, last year the office was budgeted $1,151,305.