UPDATE: Worry About Carryover May Mean Wood County Spending Freeze

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Update: 5/05/2014 4:05 P.M.

The new budget is finalized, and it's been approved.

But that doesn't mean Wood County cleared the old fiscal year yet.

That one has til the end of next month...and there are some worries about it.

The county commission is concerned it might have a situation similar to the end of the last budget year, when the carryover into the next fiscal year was less than expected.

That's enough of a concern that, later this week, it might discuss a spending freeze for county departments through the end of June.

"We always seem to come out at the end, but last year, we were short," says Commission President Wayne Dunn. "This year, we're expecting to be short. So we're trying through budget management to not be short again."

The sheriff's office presented to the county administrator a copy of state code, indicating its up to elected officials how they can spend their budgets.

Bob Tranquill, of the sheriff's tax office, says the proposed raises are for people who have taken on added duties of others who have left the department.

UPDATE 3/24/2014 12:25 PM

The Wood County Commission approves a balanced, but tight, budget for the coming fiscal year.

The new spending plan, which takes effect in July, is for just over $20 million, down from $22 million this year.

To get to that total, the commission had to use an anticipated increase in revenue from the county's hotel-motel tax.

And it had some help in moving money around from the county administrator.

"Thanks to Marty Seufer, we were really able to look at things and make the changes necessary to have a balanced budget without hurting anyone, and not having to raise taxes on anyone," says Commission President Wayne Dunn. "I think we're tickled to death with the way it ended, not with the way it started out."

The new budget does not include any across-the-board employee pay raises.

The county has had two concerns this year: an increase in insurance costs, and a half-million dollar hike in the regional jail bill.

UPDATE 3/18/2014 5:00 PM

Some optimism as Wood County crunches the numbers for its new budget.

The commission believes there's enough money coming in for a balanced spending plan.

But those projected revenues are still below those of the $20 million budget now in effect.

And the county has seen cost increases for things like the regional jail bill and employee insurance, while most of the revenue line items have had a decrease.

All they can do is be optimistic for the future.

"We're hoping the cracker plant will come, and the oil and gas business will bring revenue to us, and we'll see happy days again," says Commission President Wayne Dunn. "Because there are things we need as a county that we just don't have the revenue to provide at this point, so hopefully down the road, the economy will turn around and we will have the money to do the things we really want and need to do."

Those revenue decreases have offset increases from a re-assessment of property values from forest land.

The commission is expected to finalize the new budget early next week.

UPDATE 3/10/2014 4:45 PM

The effect of the C8 controversy on Wood County's budget for next year.

The county clerk's office is preparing for a lot of cases.

C8 might become as much of a county case as it is a federal one.

There already have been lawsuits filed over the chemical DuPont Washington Works used for years to make Teflon.

But most of those have been in federal court.

Circuit Clerk Carole Jones told the commission Monday morning she has been told to expect a lot of lawsuits being filed in her office.

That's because the state-mandated filing fee is less than if they're filed in federal court.

That might mean more work for her employees.

"Any time you have plaintiffs who are not related, you have to assign separate individual case numbers to them...these would be different because we're talking about an estimated 300 cases coming in all at one time. It's going to be massive," says Jones.

Jones and prosecutor Jason Wharton both presented their budget requests to the commission.

Neither is substantially higher than their current budgets.

The commission is to finalize its 2015 fiscal year budget later this month.

UPDATE 3/7/2014 5:00 PM

The Wood County Commission plans for another tight spending year.

Commissioners held the first of a series of budget hearings Friday morning.

That included a hearing for the sheriff's office, which is facing a number of departures or retirements of long-time deputies and employees.

Sheriff Ken Merritt says facing that, as it also deals with a growing number of drug cases.

One concern is the continuing rising costs of housing prisoners in the regional jail.

One suggestion: reducing the number of hours for the Wood County Holding Center, one of only a handful in the state operating on close to a 24/7 schedule.

"At 5:00, we would close down, and every arrest made in Wood County, whether it's by a deputy, a trooper, a Parkersburg, Vienna or Williamstown Police Officer, they would have to transfer them themselves to the regional jail," says holding center administrator Steve Stephens. "But you're still going to get a regional jail bill."

The commissioners also discussed combining duties of some employees, including that of retired deputies serving as bailiffs for the circuit court.

The commission has budget meetings Monday morning with the prosecutor's and circuit clerk's offices.

The status quo.

That is, at the very least, what Wood County offices face for the upcoming budget year.

Right now, the commission is hearing challenges from property owners to their tax assessments.

Pretty soon, however, they'll be discussing the budget for the year beginning in July.

Commission President Wayne Dunn doesn't think county revenues for the coming year will be any better than they have been this year.

In fact, he adds it's unlikely county departments will see an increase in their budgets and there may even be some reductions.

"Based on our jail bill being $500,000 more than it has been in the past, we are, at least, not looking at increases in anything," says Dunn. "If I had to bet, I'd say we're going to have to do some cuts in some places."

Dunn says the coming year looks to be the tightest in the six years he has been on the commission.

He does say the commission will continue to do what it has done in the past few years: try to find unnecessary spending items and eliminate them first, before making any spending cuts in county departments.

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