Update: Wood County Commission considering increase in property tax levy

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PARKERSBURG, W.Va,-(WTAP) Updated: 3/22/2017

Wood County's property tax levy rate has been the same for nearly two decades. That might soon change.

The reason is the county's anticipated tightening budget for fiscal year 2017-18.

Commission President Blair Couch says 1% is the most the levy can be increased without the voter referendum process.

He suggested Thursday that's what the county might need, in order to pay its employees during the summer.

Commissioners have been told the current projection on funds carried over from the current budget-about $300,000-won't be enough to cover those costs.

Couch says that's being considered, after looking at alternatives to reduce spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

"I am not happy about raising the levy rate; that is something we have loathed to do," Couch said during Thursday's commission meeting, where the budget was discussed. "We don't have any choices. It's nothing more than a jail bill issue. We held our health care to zero increase. That's the first in my 12 years."

Couch says the biggest budget problem is the regional jail bill, estimated to cost nearly $3 million for the current fiscal year.

He attributes that to the growing number of drug offender cases going through the county's court system.

The commission is also considering which groups in the future should get money through the county's hotel-motel tax.

It plans to give the new budget final approval Monday morning.

Updated: 3/20/2017

It's known as the "carryover": the amount of money passed on from budget year to budget year.

Wood County officials say, in the first months of the budget year, that money is used to meet county employees' payroll.

But County Clark Mark Rhodes told the commission Monday that carryover from the current year could be far less than it has been in the past: currently $400,000 instead of the anticipated $800,000.

The commission approved a resolution requiring, for the time being, purchases by county offices to be kept to essential items, and commission approval of emergency office purchases.

"I just heard our finance person say he wasn't going to buy $4,000 worth of paper," Commissioner Jimmy Colombo noted. "He's made that same choice we make every day. We're stretching so we can keep the money to spend it for gas, electricity, payroll and stuff like that."

The commission, meantime, was asked by the Magistrate Court Administrator, Paulina Yeargo, to consider more space for the court's operations.

The Justice Center, which opened nearly five years ago, has three magistrate courtrooms but four magistrates.

Commission President Blair Couch said the court should look into alternatives, such as using circuit courtrooms when they're available for hearings.

The commission recently was lauded by Governor's Cabinet Secretary Jeff Sandy for paying its regional jail bills on time.

Couch suggested that might change, depending on the county's budget situation in the months to come.

He added, however, failure to pay those bills on time might result in the state of West Virginia withholding grants and other state subsidies to local governments.

Updated: 3/13/2017

Monday, the Wood County Prosecuting Attorney's office, the circuit clerk's office and a few other agency heads stopped by to talk numbers with the commissioners.

Some of the department heads say they're all right with their current figures, while others, like the circuit clerk office, need some tweaks.

For example, the clerk's office needs a comp time policy. Replacing the 20-year old phone system is something else the commission has its eye on, but the $200,000 monthly jail bill is taking away from other projects.

"We're in an unenviable position, but I think the confidence in the three county commissioners, all three of us bring different perspectives. All three of us want to work hard. It is not an issue of not being willing to dig into the numbers," said Wood County Commission President Blair Couch.

Commissioners will continue budget talks this Thursday.

Wood County cities and counties are getting ready for a different kind of
"March Madness".

Starting next week, most West Virginia cities and counties will work on their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

Wood County commissioners say tax revenues are expected to be unchanged, and health insurance costs for county employees may rise.

Most county employees also haven't had pay raises for years.

Meanwhile, Commission President Blair Couch hopes cities like Parkersburg will help fund non-governmental agencies.

"We would love to see them increase their contributions to certain organizations," Couch said Monday. "Youth sports, the protection of cats and dogs; we need to invest more money in our development authorities. Those are all worthwhile things. Unfortunately, the county doesn't stand in the position to be the leader on those."

Vienna has been working on its budget for the past few weeks. Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce will make his budget proposal to city council Tuesday night.

The city of Parkersburg funded "outside" agencies for years, but ended that practice in the late 1990's, according to former mayor Jimmy Colombo, now a county commissioner.

The Wood County Commission plans to hear budget proposals from county elected officials beginning next week.

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