PARKERSBURG - Park improvements, a new day report center director, courthouse projects, energy-efficiency improvements and weathering the June storm were noted by Wood County commissioners as they looked back on 2012.
"We continue to make improvements on our budget. We've continued to keep taxes low while still offering numerous services to the community," said commission president Blair Couch. "We have also been able to pick up the slack for some agencies that other entities have decided not to fund. These are entities that make our community a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family. But there is always room for improvement," he said.
The county saw its first full year with a full-time park director, Jeremy Cross, who oversaw all three county parks.
"Jeremy has done a great job, and I think we've seen some improvements as a result," Couch said.
Cross said his first year on the job included development of new trails, fundraising activities, establishing maintenance plans and helping get Mountwood Park back on the positive side of the financial ledger.
Jeff Williams, director at the Wood County Community Corrections Day Report Center, is retiring at the end of this month and commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to accept the DRC board's recommendation to hire Dennie Huggins as his replacement. Huggins, who served as chief tax deputy/confinement operations chief during Sheriff Jeff Sandy's tenure, will take on his new job responsibilities as of Tuesday.
The steps of the 1899-era courthouse steps were replaced this year with the aid of a Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority grant. The commissioners recently met with architects, engineers and historic preservation experts representing the authority after the group did a review of the courthouse. They are inspecting all 55 courthouses in West Virginia and a report on their findings will be filed with the commission with a list of recommendations.
Commissioner Wayne Dunn noted improvements in the move toward energy efficiency during the past year, including purchase of more hybrid vehicles for the county fleet.
"We made changes, improvements in the buildings to help improve energy efficiency, and we have been working on an energy program aimed at property owners not usually served under other programs," he said.
"Energy efficiency is becoming a higher priority nationally and on the state level," Dunn said, adding government needs to become more aware and lead by example.
"Conservation is the first place to start. Individuals may not have the resources to make the changes they need to make in their own homes to become more energy-efficient, government needs to make more funding available and develop policies to help with that," he said.
Commissioner Steve Gainer, who serves on the 911 advisory board, noted the weathering of this summer's storms.
"As far as I could tell everything went well on emergency response, Ed Hupp (director of emergency services) did a wonderful job handling it," Gainer said, noting county emergency responders learned a number of valuable lessons from the storm including the need for generators.
"We now have generators for the fire stations and other places. We definitely learned a good lesson with the power being off so long," Gainer said.
A major concern noted by all three commissioners for the past and coming year is finances and the budget.
"We have been able to save over the last few years and we've been able to balance the budget and keep on track," Dunn said. "But things are getting into a tighter and tighter track. Our revenue is not going up significantly and we were able to save money on health insurance.
"The public needs to realize things are getting tighter every year, and in order for us to grow, we have to come up with some more revenue. Revenue is not projected to go up in the next couple of years. It's not all roses. We are fighting the money game also," Dunn said. "The state is going to be turning more obligations back to the counties and cities so the noose will tighten. We are trying to create other revenue sources."