Commissioners ‘slightly’ raise levy rates

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission set the county’s levy rates Tuesday for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo could not attend in person and participated via phone. County Clerk Mark Rhodes and County Administrator Marty Seufer also attended.

The commission increased the levy rates “slightly” compared to last year, officials said.

The rate on Class 1 property was set at 13.64; Class 2 property was set at 27.28; and Class 3 and 4 property was set at 54.56. The rate last year on Class 1 property was set at 13.49; Class 2 property was set at 26.98; and Class 3 and 4 property was set at 53.96.

The raised levy rates are expected to bring in around an additional $140,000. The county recently approved its $22.6 million 2019-2020 budget.

A move to get the West Virginia Legislature to approve Home Rule for counties to allow them to implement a 1 percent sales tax didn’t go anywhere during the last legislative session. Officials said if they had that sales tax in place, they might have been able to keep the levy rates the same or possibly lower them.

”I think this is something we have to do until we can convince the other county commissions and people in the state Legislature we need that 1 percent,” Colombo said of the raise in the levy rates and the need for Home Rule for counties.

Parkersburg, Vienna and Williamstown all have a 7 percent sales tax while Wood County, outside the municipalities, has a 6 percent sales tax.

Colombo said there are businesses in parts of the county that pay the 7 percent sales tax and are only a short distance from other businesses that pay the 6 percent.

”We are trying to level the playing field for the whole county,” Colombo said.

Officials believed that having the sales tax, which would be contributed to by people traveling through the area, would have generated enough revenue that the levy rates could have been lowered for property owners.

”Everyone traveling through Wood County, Parkersburg, Vienna or down I-77 use services provided by the county,” Commission President Blair Couch said.

Couch said the $140,000 generated from the levy rate increases would be added to the county’s general revenue.

”It was a minor step up,” he said. ”We try to hold the levy rate as low as possible. It is still the seventh lowest out of the 55 counties in the state.”

The county government funds the prosecutor’s office, which prosecutes crime in the courts; the county 911 center, which handles dispatching emergency calls; the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, which does law enforcement and has to handle mental hygiene cases regardless of location; the county jail bill, which is averaging $2.2 million-$2.5 million a year, and other responsibilities.

”The width and depth of the county where it has responsibilities is pretty wide,” Couch said. ”We continue to cut costs anyway we can.

”We have saved on our health insurance and we now operate where every expenditure over $100 has to have a requisition and then that is approved, a purchase order that has to be approved. We mind our dollars and cents while keeping an eye on the bigger picture. That is rare in any government function,” he said.