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Budget deficit catches Berkeley Co. officials 'off guard'

October 05, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Berkeley County leaders have clamped down on spending since August, when it became clear that projected revenue streams had significantly dwindled in the 2006-07 fiscal year and unpaid bills began to mount.

"It did catch us a little off guard," County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said of the $1.5 million drop in certain revenue projections.

The shortfalls in anticipated tax and fee collection were part of the county's financial statement presented to the county commission Thursday by auditor Paul Shroyer.

Shroyer also noted that the county's spending exceeded the amount of money collected during the fiscal year by about $2.3 million.

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Collins wasn't exactly sure how that happened and indicated he needed time to review the eight-page financial statement, which Shroyer distributed at the commission's regular meeting Thursday.

"The revenue was very short of what was projected," Collins said.

Revenue projections for the county's engineering and planning department services between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, were off by $372,148, according to Shroyer's report.

"The year before that, those two departments were raking in the money," Collins said. Collins said he was thankful that he and other county leaders resisted pressure from developers to hire additional county planning and engineering staff because the commission likely would have been forced to lay them off.

In addition to a drop in charges for services, line items for interest and investment projections were down $28,547 and two tax revenue streams were off by a little more than $1 million, according to Shroyer's report.

Aside from general spending, the budget shortfall affected the county's capital improvement plans. Last month, the commission delayed the second phase of the judicial center when bids exceeded the estimated cost. Collins said plans for the former Martin's grocery store/CVS plaza also have been "pulled back," but Collins still hopes the emergency services project at Tablers Station Business Park could move forward through a public-private partnership.

Collins said the budget squeeze has prompted an initiative to develop a tracking system to allow commissioners to more easily monitor revenues on a daily basis. He said the system is being set up by Gary Wine, the county's new information technology director.

Collins acknowledged that the timing of Wine's hiring given the budgetary concerns was a bit awkward, but said Wine already had saved the county "a bundle of money" and has proposed plans to help the county become even more efficient.

For the remainder of this year, Collins said he was going to keep a "tight watch" on the county's finances in light of the predicament that materialized this summer.

"I don't think we could have gotten to it any quicker," Collins said of the financial situation. In the future, he hopes to change that, he said.

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