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Berkeley Co. endorses $25 million budget plan

March 21, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County government leaders on Tuesday gave informal approval to a $25 million budget plan for next the fiscal year that includes money for a new, "in-house" legal counsel position and a grant-writing coordinator.

Though not included in the 2007-08 budget due to be sent to Charleston, W.Va., next week, County Commissioners Steven C. Teufel, Ronald K. Collins and William "Bill" Stubblefield also appeared to agree on a plan to add a county litter control officer and a transportation planner to the payroll soon after the fiscal year begins on July 1.

The "in house" legal counsel post would replace a contract the County Commission has with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP for the services of attorney Norwood Bentley III and Berkeley County Planning Commission's legal counsel, Patrick Henry, Collins said.

"We've paid $132,000 (in legal fees) so far this year," said Collins, when asked if the county expected to save money by the move. Bentley has served as the commission's contracted legal counsel for 14 years and last month acknowledged the change would eliminate any potential opportunity for a conflict of interest with his firm's work.

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Last week, commissioners formally received the support of Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely to create the legal counsel position.

Though Games-Neely is recognized by the state's constitution as the county attorney, she told commissioners that absorbing Bentley and Henry's work into her office would be a challenge and require two or three additional staff.

"It's not beneficial to you, quite frankly," said Games-Neely, noting her preoccupation with the county's criminal and civil case dockets in magistrate and circuit courts.

In their final budget workshop on Tuesday, commissioners agreed the grant writing position could absorb some of County Administrator Deborah Hammond's work to facilitate current grants and at the same time write new applications.

"We expect the grant writer to eventually save the county money," Stubblefield said.

Stubblefield advocated adding the transportation planner and litter control officer posts to the county's engineer department, but commissioners were not sure exactly how the new positions would be financed.

Collins noted that the housing market had slowed and suggested contracting a transportation planner, but he appeared to concede after Stubblefield noted that "all the models show things are going to pick back up."

Commissioners appeared less settled on a proposal to hire an emergency services/public safety coordinator, a position they said could initially be contracted.

"I want to be able to see what (the position) brings to the table," Teufel said.

As for the litter control officer, Stubblefield noted the county is receiving pressure from the state to implement litter-control measures or risk losing economic development grant opportunities.

In his state of the state address in January, Gov. Joe Manchin said; "if a county wants to receive state dollars for its economic development efforts, it must first demonstrate its commitment to keeping the county as clean as possible in order to show respect to their residents and attract and retain businesses and tourists." Manchin outlined a three-year time frame for certain litter-control measures to be adopted by the state's 55 counties.

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