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Jefferson County budget puzzle still not solved

Commissioners to resume work on Monday

Commissioners to resume work on Monday

April 04, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A $2 million shortfall continues to trip up the Jefferson County Commission, which is entering its second week past a budget deadline after members were unable to agree Thursday on a 2008-09 budget proposal.

At one point, Commissioner Greg Corliss twirled a budget document onto the meeting table and said, "This budget would never get out of port."

Spectators in the back of the room laughed.

"Please maintain decorum," Commission President Frances Morgan said.

Officials have struggled over the past several weeks to come up with a balanced budget after discovering a $2 million funding shortfall.

The budget proposal is working with about $18 million in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The commissioners have looked at various cost-cutting scenarios. This week, they began focusing on one that calls for funding cuts from 2.5 percent to 5 percent to various county departments and agencies.

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The commissioners had considered a 50 percent funding cut to outside agencies, but they are now considering a 3 percent cut.

On Thursday, County Administrator Leslie Smith presented the commissioners with a balanced budget proposal, but concerns lingered about whether enough money was being set aside to deal with increasing prices for fuel, insurance and Eastern Regional Jail costs in the coming year.

After realizing they did not feel comfortable with the budget numbers, the commissioners agreed to adjourn for the day and resume budget work at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Among the issues discussed Thursday, Commissioner Dale Manuel tried unsuccessfully to get the commissioners to suspend work on a proposed judicial center downtown, which is expected to cost more than $10 million.

With all the concern over the budget, now is not a good time to proceed with the judicial center, Manuel said.

Manuel said he has talked with City of Charles Town officials who have suggested leasing options to create more judicial space.

"We need to look and see what is most cost effective," Manuel said.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan said the commission needs to proceed with caution on the judicial annex and said the facility "could be as small as two courtrooms."

The commissioners had a March 28 deadline to file a budget with state officials, but Corliss said after Thursday's meeting there are no penalties for filing late.

"What are they going to do, throw us in jail?" he asked.

A spokesman for the state Auditor's Office confirmed Thursday that there are no penalties for filing a budget late. But it can cause problems in the auditor's office in how they set aside time to review the budget. The state must get it back to the commission so it can set tax levy rates by April 15, said Ora Ash, director of local government services for the state Auditor's Office in Clarksburg, W.Va.

Corliss said he realizes some commissioners are eager to pass a budget, but the commission needs to be careful that it has enough money in the budget to pay for items such as rising fuel costs.

Corliss said he fears the budget plan is using low estimates for fuel costs and if a government misses estimates in budget, "You're in trouble."

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