PARKERSBURG - Facing a proposed 9 percent health insurance hike, numerous funding requests and very little new revenue coming in, Wood County commissioners continue trying to hammer out the 2012-2013 budget.
A special budgetary session is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., today in the Fort Boreman public meeting room of the Judge Black Courthouse annex. The budget is due in Charleston for review at the end of this month, but commissioners said they won't wait till the deadline to get it done. Wood County's fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.
Commissioner Wayne Dunn said his biggest concern for the $17 million-plus budget is the lack of new revenue, with only about $16,000 in new revenues projected to plug in. In years past revenues, mostly from new construction, have usually come back in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Wood County commissioners continue work on the 2012-2013 budget this week. A special budget session is also scheduled for today.
"We are just not certain where we stand right now. We need to get a good feel for where the bills are going to come in, look at previous year's expenses. The proposed health insurance premium increase would mean about $200,000 in additional expenditures. We have to take that money from savings or what we make, and we didn't get much to work with this time, revenues are flat. We need to see cost projections," Dunn said.
"We are working through the issues, we met with the health care provider to try and find options to try to reduce the rates, as we have in the last five years, to still provide good health care coverage for our employees while keeping our rates in line. We have surveyed other counties on what portion of health care they pay for their employees. It used to be getting a job in government, in general, meant you may not have the best wages versus the private sector, but you had some of the best benefits," said commission President Blair Couch.
"As the county has increased its wages, in some instances, are better than the private sector, we need to start looking at how we stack up there," Couch said. "That is a consideration we have to take into account. But we have worked very hard to keep benefits in line and have changed numerous parts of our benefits package so it did not increase the cost significantly. We've been given a proposed rate hike of 9 percent, but hopefully with some modifications, we can reduce that," Couch said.
Commissioners will comb through elected officials' funding requests, the expenditures side of the budget and look at the reduction in utility costs anticipated due to no longer using and anticipated demolition of the holding center, and magistrate court.
"We need to project utility costs for the new justice center and we should be able to find some savings with the elimination of the other buildings and that will help," Couch said.
While there was some new construction that produced some additional revenue, county officials said much of it was offset by the loss of revenue when St. Joseph's Hospital became nonprofit. At the time of the sale of St. Joseph's Hospital to the West Virginia United Health System it became a tax-exempt entity, reducing tax revenue to the county, city, state and Wood County schools by about $817,456, according to figures released from the assessor's office at the time of the sale.
Couch said the commissioners will not raise taxes.
"We've talked about this before, how we would adjust to make sure we don't raise taxes, and we will stay within budget," Couch said.
The county sets its levy rate in April.
This is Wood County Commissioner Steve Gainer's second year to work on the county budget, and he said the process doesn't seem to be getting any easier.
"My biggest concern is the health coverage and the fact the revenue is flat. The payments on the justice center are also a concern," Gainer said. The justice center payment will come out of the reimbursements for the first couple of years, and the reimbursement of interest costs on the bond will go back into a fund to help make the payments, along with some of the carryover, officials said. The first year or two the annual payment on the new justice center is be about $660,000 then it is anticipated to go down to around $470,000 yearly after that. County officials said there is no penalty for early payoff.
"I am concerned about the future, hopefully the economy will improve," Gainer noted. "The big concern is the revenue side which doesn't seem to be increasing as much the demands are."
The county has about $2 million in special building savings and another $1.5 million in rainy day savings. The county has been reimbursed for the purchase of the Hintgen building (now the justice center), the energy efficiency programs and related expenses at the justice center and has received the first reimbursement for the 45 percent of the interest through the federal bond program.