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Wood County Commission looks to raise levy rate

Wood County Commissioners Blair Couch, Robert Tebay, Jimmy Colombo and Wood County Administrator Marty Seufer discuss the county’s proposed 2019-2020 budget during the commission’s Monday meeting. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Wood County Commission is looking at doing a “slight” increase in the county’s levy rate to raise money for the county as officials worked on finalizing the numbers for the 2019-2020 county budget.

The commissioners were reviewing numbers and discussing decisions made in formulating the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The commission is expected to vote Thursday to approve the county budget and set the levy rate.

Commissioners said Monday they plan to raise the levy rate just enough that it would not require a public hearing to do. The raised levy rate is expected to bring in around an additional $140,000.

”That is a minor increase,” Commission President Blair Couch said.

The money will allow the county to put money toward its bond payment.

A move to get the West Virginia Legislature to approve Home Rule for counties to allow them to implement a 1 percent sales tax in areas of the county that didn’t have one didn’t go anywhere during the last legislative session.

”We kept saying if we did not get Home Rule for counties that the only way we can increase our revenue is through the levy rate,” Couch said.

With that, the county will add two deputies to the Wood County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Steve Stephens initially asked for five additional deputies.

”We would love to do it, but we don’t have the funds,” Couch said.

Stephens was appreciative for the two.

”It puts me in a better position than I am right now,” he said.

The sheriff agreed to use money from his office’s Concealed Carry Fund to pay for uniforms and related equipment for the new deputies.

Also, elected officials will have a budget line item with $500 for each employee in their office. If they have 10 employees, they will get $5,000. The office can use that money for raises or other expenses.

Wood County Sheriff’s Department had already received raises through money the county is saving after turning the county holding center over to the state Division of Corrections. However, the Sheriff’s Tax Office and the department’s court bailiffs will get the $500 an employee money.

Officials said they want to work to raise the base pay for starting employees. They are looking at putting employees at $27,500, if they currently make below that, in the next year and eventually up to $28,500 in the next three years.

Officials said some employees make around $22,000 and this action will give them a substantial step up.

Circuit Clerk Carole Jones said she has struggled to bring salaries up in recent years and thanked the commission for taking this action on behalf of the employees.

Over the last eight years, the county has not approved across-the-board pay increases.

”We believe you have to get the employees up to a livable wage,” Couch said. ”In Wood County, we see that as $28,500. We can’t do it all at once.”

The county’s hotel/motel tax has seen an increase over the last year due to the oil and gas industry. The commission is planning to readjust the percentages of the groups that receive money from that fund and direct money to do work at Veterans Park, including putting new roofs on the picnic shelters and other maintenance around the park. The county recently had trees removed, but stumps need to be removed.

The county is also using savings from the turnover of the holding center to help pay for new voting machines for the county. Four annual payments of $186,000 each are still owed on the machines.

Commissioner Robert Tebay said the county pays the jail bill for the municipalities. The sheriff’s department handles the mental hygienes throughout the county, he added.

The commission goes into the budget with a fear of facing a massive insurance increase, Couch said. So far, the rates have remained flat, but officials want to start a health insurance reserve fund to offset future increases in insurance costs, officials said.

In other business:

∫ The commission unanimously approved the de-annexation, by minor boundary adjustment, of a parcel at the intersection of 11th Avenue and 39th Street in Vienna.

Russ Skogstad, attorney for the City of Vienna, appeared before the commission as the city is seeking to have around one acre taken out of the city and put into the county.

Developer Bob Bennett approached the city about a subdivision project that he wants to build. Most of the property for the development falls in the county except for these two lots that are in Vienna.

Plans were approved by the county planning commission, pending the approval of the de-annexation.

No one appeared before the commission to object to the action.

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