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Budget discussions begin for Berkeley commission

March 08, 2001

Budget discussions begin for Berkeley commission



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission learned Tuesday it has about $600,000 more in budget requests than it will have in county coffers for the year beginning July 1.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond told the commission that the county expects to raise $13.2 million for the next fiscal year. More than half of that will come from the county property tax, which the commission plans to raise the by 3 percent from last year, the highest increase allowed without a public hearing.

Budget requests from county agencies and other groups come to about $13.8 million, however. The figure includes requests for about 10 additional county employees.

The budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is $11.5 million.

Commissioners will work this month on bringing the budget requests and projected revenue in balance. But they made it clear they will not ask for a property tax hike of more than 3 percent.

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"We've had good increases," in past years, said Commissioner Robert Burkhart. "We've taken care of our people. We need to take care of the taxpayers."

"People pay too much in taxes," said Commissioner John Wright. "We have to look at a bare-bones budget," said Commission President Howard Strauss.

Strauss said he would begin the process of reconciling the budget with revenues by eliminating from the budget virtually all money for groups outside the county's direct control, including everything from Meals on Wheels to the Boarman Arts Center, a girls' baseball association, and a clinic to provide immunizations and well-baby checkups.

"I cannot see government's role in providing for all these special interests," Strauss said.

While Burkhart and Wright argued that parts of some outside programs be saved, Strauss argued the county is facing big increases in the cost of housing prisoners and must look ahead to building a new judicial center.

"When we have these enormous jail bills and building needs, we have to look at the safety of the public first," he said.

Strauss said he didn't expect to be the commissioner arguing for tough cuts to outside agencies.

"I didn't realize I'd be among two liberals today," he chuckled about Wright and Burkhart.

Burkhart argued for keeping some money in the Meals on Wheels program for seniors, saying "for many of them, this is the only good meal they get every day."

But he argued against more funding for the Boarman Arts Center.

"You can't eat art," he said.

Wright wondered out loud whether Strauss wanted to cut all programs for young people.

"Weren't you ever a kid, Howard?" Wright asked Strauss.

"I was a kid, but I'm a taxpayer today," Strauss said. "If money was no object, I'd fund everything. But it's not our money. It's the taxpayers' money."

The commission will continue its budget deliberations this afternoon.

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