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Wood County officials prepping for budget talks

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission will be looking at increased insurance costs as well as the impact of possible federal legislation that could increase the minimum wage as it begins its budget process this month.

Officials announced Monday that the county’s elected officials and department heads will be coming in on March 15 to discuss their proposed budgets and what they would like to see in the upcoming fiscal year.

“We have an increase in healthcare costs,” said Commission President Blair Couch. “We have been very diligent over the last couple of years in holding expenses down.

“We are blessed with a lot of great elected officials and department heads who are careful with their budgets and live within their means. We want to make sure we operate well.”

Couch said healthcare costs have increased and they will have to take that into consideration. County officials are also looking at figures if they would have to increase people’s pay if the $15 an hour minimum wage is passed by federal lawmakers.

That would be around $31,200 a year for the people at the minimum. Those people currently make $28,500.

They would also have to look at pay increases that is equal to the increase in individual health care costs.

Some officials are asking for minimal to large pay increases, additional people and other things they feel like they need.

“We need to look at these and be cognizant that the CARES Act money we have gotten has already been spent and is not going back into their budgets,” Couch said. “It will not be in their budgets to spend wildly.”

They will be looking at what it will take to pay off some car loans and buildings.

The commission will receive requests from the different officials for their offices and staff as well as other non-profit organizations who might request funding from the county.

The county has been reimbursed from federal money, distributed through the state, on a number of expenses as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Couch credited Gov. Jim Justice with getting the county federal money.

Another relief bill is working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate which Couch said currently has money that will be made available directly to city and county governments.

“The guidelines say that we should be able to make up for lost revenue,” Couch said.

He wants to see if that can be used to make up for money the county lost over the last year from decreased collections from the county’s hotel/motel tax which has provided funding to a number of local groups, including the Parkersburg/Wood County Convention and Visitors Bureau and other area attractions.

“We will have discussions about that going into budget,” Couch said. “My hope is the next CARES Act helps us takes care of our partners, including the Parkersburg Art Center, the Parkersburg Actors Guild, the Smoot Theatre, the Blennerhassett Museum, the Oil and Gas Museum, Henderson Hall, Belleville Homecoming, Parkersburg Homecoming, Interstate Fair, Multi-Cultural Festival and others.

“It is the fairs and festivals that were have lost due to the pandemic and whether they survive is probably a matter of money.”

Couch said the hotel/motel tax is down around $250,000 from the previous year.

Many groups have buildings they maintain, but the revenue hasn’t been there to pay expenses.

These groups would not be able to apply directly to the state, but they could apply to the commission if the federal money was given to the counties to distribute.

“If we can get CARES Act money to our partners, the people and organizations we know locally,” Couch said. “We know who spends the government money wisely and we know those folks are important to Wood County.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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