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Berkeley County Commission to delay paying certain bills

June 20, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Budget woes continue to dog the Berkeley County Commission.

On Thursday, the commission decided to delay paying certain bills and making budgeted purchases as the fiscal year comes to a close at the end of the month.

As of Thursday, the county had $1.3 million in pending bills and $3.1 million in the general fund, according to finance records maintained by Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small's office.

Commission President Steven C. Teufel told Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine that county officials wanted to make sure they had enough money to purchase about $32,000 in scanning and copying equipment.

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"If I can't get (the equipment), I can't operate," Sine told Teufel and commissioners Ronald K. Collins and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield. "Then, you'll have five (circuit) judges on ya'."

Even with the spending cuts earlier this year, Sine said she had 20 percent of her budget left to spend, and told the commission she didn't have the money available in the 2008-09 budget because of further cutbacks by the county in the next year, which begins July 1.

The county's information technology director told the commission that two of Sine's four document scanners "are done" and that duct tape has been used to "keep them together."

Sine also reiterated a standing request for a fireproof vault, which is required by state code for court record storage.

Appearing in support of Sine's position, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders suggested that proceeds of the commission's planned sale of a county-owned building at 126 W. King St. on Aug. 23 could be used to help pay for a permanent storage site.

The state requirement for court records storage was "sort of glazed over" when plans for the county's new judicial center were being finalized, Sanders said.

Then, the Morgan County Courthouse caught fire.

"All their records survived because they were in a fireproof vault," Sanders said.

Stubblefield and Teufel later said that the commission had not decided how the sale proceeds from the West King Street building would be spent, but there were a number of priorities. The building to be sold now houses hundreds of boxes of court records, but they are not in a vault, and Sanders said the files contain a substantial part of Berkeley County history.

After Sine's presentation, Sheriff W. Randy Smith told the commission that he needed a little more than $300 to pay for work stemming from his role as a court-appointed conservator for people who are unable to bring about the sale of property.

"I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul to take care of a lot of these things," said Smith, later adding that he was using money from his forfeiture fund and gun fund to help run the department.

After the commission approved the expenditure, Stubblefield sought and received assurances that the money would be refunded to the county's general fund.

The county's budget pinch surfaced in July 2007, and since then, the commission successfully lobbied other elected officers to cut their current spending plans. Within the same time frame, the commission also approved the hiring of a full-time director of legal services and an IT director, and earlier this month, decided to give the county's human resources director a new job title and an $18,000 raise.

On June 5, the commission voted to add a part-time grant writer to its staff and replaced a temporary worker job with a full-time position.

The changes approved this month prompted Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely to warn the commission that they were "dangerously close" to causing her to take unspecified legal action.

"All elected and nonelected department heads cooperated with your financial crisis and this is the thanks that we get?" Games-Neely said in a memo sent to the commission. "How dare you!"

Commissioners have said that the personnel moves were made within their own promised budget cuts. Games-Neely said in her letter to the commission that if the county was unable to adequately fund current offices or maintain an adequate financial reserve, the commission was not allowed to spend the money.

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