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Budget includes lower tax rate

March 28, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Thanks to higher property assessments and better money management, Berkeley County was able to lower the tax rate residents will pay, while increasing budgets to many county entities, including the sheriff's department, library and animal control office.

On Thursday, the Berkeley County Commission unanimously approved a $14 million budget, and will send it to Charleston, W.Va., for review.

For the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004, the sheriff's department will receive $2.1 million, compared to $1.87 million this year.

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Berkeley County Animal Control will receive $220,000, compared to a current budget of $193,000. The extra money will be used to give animal control officers a raise, with a starting salary around $16,000, which Commission President Howard Strauss said is still too low. Funds did not allow for a higher salary, he said.

The Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library will be allocated $365,000, which is $60,000 more than what it receives now.

The County Commission's general budget will increase from $512,000 to $533,000.

Overall, the budget enables the county to give all employees a two-step raise, which will increase the average salary by $1,500 to a maximum raise of $2,000, commissioners have said.

Employees hired after Jan. 1 of this year will receive a one-step pay increase, Strauss said.

One difference in the budget concerns capital purchases, which now will be overseen by the commission, instead of individual department heads. In the past, if a department head needed to buy, for example, a car or copier, he or she had money budgeted for that. Starting this year, that money will remain in the general fund and such purchases will need to be approved by county commissioners, Strauss said.

More than $1.1 million was set aside last year in various department budgets for such purchases, including $555,000 for courthouse capital purchases. This year, the commission set aside $100,000.

County residents will pay a little less in property taxes because of increased property appraisal rates, Strauss said. State law requires that if property appraisals increase by more than 1 percent, the levy rate must be decreased to offset costs to residents, Strauss said.

For the owners of a $100,000 home, the decreased levy rate equals a savings of around $4.50. Under the current rate of $26.36, the homeowner pays $26.36 per $100 of assessed value, or around $158.16 a year, excluding additional taxes from the state, Board of Education and municipality, if applicable. Under the new rate of $25.60, the same homeowner will pay $153.60 a year to the county, Strauss said.

The county also has been able to cut some costs in the areas of computers and employees. Improving the efficiency of current employees, rather than hiring new ones, has been done, Strauss said.

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