Wood County budget nears completion

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners plan to finalize the 2014-2015 budget on Monday.

The proposed budget is due in the state auditor’s office for review by the end of March. The county budget year runs July 1 to June 30.

The commissioners will meet in special session today and hope to wrap it up on Monday.

During their regular meeting Thursday, they reviewed agencies that receive hotel/motel tax revenue.

By state code, the commissioners are required to give the Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitors Bureau at least 50 percent of the hotel/motel tax collections. The remainder can only be used for recreation, parks, historical sites, tourism, arts organizations, beautification projects, convention facilities, passenger air service incentives and medical care and emergency services.

“The revenue from the hotel/motel tax is up, and it appears it will continue to go up,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

From July 1, 2013, through January 2014, the county has collected $426,002.83 in hotel/motel taxes. Total collections for all of 2012-2013 was $605,136, 2011-2012 totalled $540,683.33, and fiscal year 2010-2011 brought in $481,282.90.

The 6 percent occupancy tax is charged on hotel rooms in the county’s unincorporated areas. The municipalities have their own tax. Under the current hotel/motel budget, 16 entities, the visitors bureau and the Innovative Grant Fund program receive a portion of the proceeds. The agencies were set to receive a percentage of the funding, and there were caps placed on some of those funds.

“If we cap each individual entity and have the funds paid out quarterly, that would help the office here better manage the fund. We’ve funded a lot of entities out of this money in the past, but this year we have to take a harder look at our expenditures,” Commissioner Blair Couch said. Some funds were disbursed monthly.

The commissioners decided rather than have the entities receive a percentage, they would get a set amount which would then be capped out, with disbursements to be made quarterly. In addition, the Multi-Cultural Festival, which was removed from the hotel/motel budget and placed into the general county budget at the request of festival officials, will now be returned to the hotel/motel budget. The festival coordinators said at the time it was moved they wanted to rely on a certain amount of funding being available rather than having it fluctuate according to hotel tax collections.

The commissioners are reviewing the list of entities that receive the funds and deciding what changes to make. Currently receiving funding from the hotel/motel tax are: the Actors Guild, Artsbridge, Belleville Homecoming, Blennerhassett Historical Foundation, Fort Boreman Park, Julia-Ann Square Historical Society, Oil and Gas Museum, Parkersburg Art Center, Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon, Parkersburg Homecoming, Greater Parkersburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, Smoot Theatre, Mountwood Park, Veterans Museum of the Mid-Ohio Valley, Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition and Veterans Park. The Innovative Grant Program is currently budgeted to get 7 percent of the funds collected.

The commissioners have set aside a contingencies fund. By law, it can be up to a maximum of 3 percent of the total budget.

“If there are funds in there, about $50,000 would be needed, the state auditor is going to say that it is all right to give the county officials pay raises, if the governor signs the bill,” Couch said.

The West Virginia Legislature approved a 12 percent pay hike for all county elected officials during the final day of the session. The bill requires the state auditor to review county budgets when certifying whether a county has sufficient funding to pay for the increases, and the officials have to request the pay hike in writing. If approved, the pay raises will translate into about $50,000 more that will be needed in the new year’s budget.

As proposed, the salaries of the three county commissioners would go from $36,960 to $41,395; the circuit and county clerk’s salaries would rise from $44,880 to $50,266; the sheriff’s salary would increase from $44,880 to $50,266; the assessor’s would go from $44,880 to $50,266; and the prosecutor’s salary would increase from $96,600 to $108,192.

A question arose Thursday about whether the county clerk, Mark Rhodes, who is appointed, would be eligible for the pay raise. The pay raise legislation refers to “elected officials” in some parts, and “officeholders” in others.

But Rhodes said it’s all moot for him, because he personally doesn’t consider himself to be eligible.

“I told the legislators when they contacted me about the bill the same thing. In my mind, I feel I was appointed not elected and I knew what the pay was when I took the job. So until the results of the election come in, I’m not elected,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said he no problems with other appointed officials in the state asking for the pay hike.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t take it; this is just my personal opinion,” he said.

County officials said it may be necessary to seek a clarification from the state attorney general on the language in the legislation if the bill is signed and moves forward.