Martinsburg council OKs budget

March 28, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Slightly more than half (52 percent) of the $12.2 million general fund budget approved 6-1 on Tuesday by Martinsburg City Council is generated by unpopular business and occupation taxes.

But that wasn't the reason for Councilman Donald Anderson's vote against the expenditure plan for the 2007-08 fiscal year, beginning July 1.

"We're giving to the outside and neglecting the home base," said Anderson, who also voted against the city's separate $1.1 million budget for sanitation services, which includes garbage and recycling services.

Budgets also were individually approved for the coal severance tax fund ($52,000), police levy fund ($2.2 million), fire/EMS fund ($1.1 million), parking fund ($505,000) and water/sewer ($8.2 million) operations for a total of $25.5 million.


After the meeting, Anderson said he voted against the general budget because of the city's decision to buy about seven acres next to Oatesdale Park authorized by the council in February. He also questioned how recent earmarks for the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority had been handled.

Mayor George Karos said that city leaders had cut back on funding outside agencies, and noted only 2.9 percent of the budget was earmarked for such contributions.

He later defended the city's purchase of the acreage as a "business transaction that simply couldn't be passed up" for the future of expanding recreation.

"We need to plan for the future ..." said Karos, acknowledging three acres was in fact somewhat rocky, but also noted the property had a home on it for possible use as well.

In the meeting, Karos also defended the city's decision to move forward with a proposal to increase garbage collection fees for residential and commercial customers. The council will discuss the proposed increase and host a public hearing on the subject in April.

Proposed to be put into effect by July 1, the annual garbage and recycling service fee for residential customers would increase to $216, up from $172. Individuals who pay their fee within 20 days of receiving their bill would pay $177.12, up from $141.04. Commercial Dumpster rates also would increase, beginning with a $1,000-per-year annual rate for customers who receive one pickup per week, up from $750.

Finance Director Mark B. Spickler said the discounted rate that comes with paying early still would be less than the $200-plus per year he pays as a Berkeley County resident.

Though he voted to authorize the garbage fee ordinance amendments be drafted, Councilman Roger Lewis said he was concerned about the proposed increase and attempted to retract his vote.

Anderson said several residents had suggested residential service be reduced to one pickup per week instead of two, and that the city should do a better job with recycling.

Spickler said the increase was necessary, suggesting the city soon would be in violation of its own ordinance, which mandates "at no time ... shall (garbage) rates be continued which are disclosed to be producing less revenue than is required to meet all obligations and costs involved in rendering service to the public."

Spickler is projecting a six-figure deficit in the sanitation fund budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year without the increase.

Karos later said that the Martinsburg's annual "Take Pride in Your Community" spring cleanup afforded city residents an opportunity to dispose of items at no cost, but still resulted in an ever increasing expense for the city. The city's 17th annual spring cleanup - slated for May 19 - also was approved by the council Tuesday.

As for the general budget, Spickler said before the meeting that the portion of business and occupation tax revenue generated by contractors had increased to about $1.3 million (of $6.2 million), up from about $300,000 only four years ago.

But Spickler said he is not advising city leaders to expect that to continue and devise other options for financing projects, such as a fire/EMS station for the city's west side and expansion of City Hall.

"There's only so much construction you can do," Spickler said.

Garbage fee rates

Here are the proposed rate changes for garbage fees in the City of Martinsburg.

· Residential (two weekly pickups)

Increase from $172 per year to $216 per year.

Increase from $141.04 to $177.12 per year with discount.

· Commercial Dumpster (one weekly pickup)

Increase from $750 per year to $1,000.

Increase from $615 per year to $820.

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