Berkeley County budget picture brightens

October 10, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Commission appears to have managed to keep the county government's financial statements in the black for the 2007-08 fiscal year, but the county's budget crunch is not expected to let up anytime soon.

On June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the balance of the county's general fund was $173,954, and the county had $159,120 in unpaid bills that were dated on or before the book-closing date, according to a review by auditor Paul Shroyer.

"From a budget standpoint, it got pretty scarce a few months ago," Commission President Steven C. Teufel said.

The commission was forced to ask other elected county officers to slash their budgets earlier this year to avoid a deficit.

"Do I want to be a participant in making the county go bankrupt? No," Sheriff W. Randy Smith said of operating his department on a "shoestring" to help the county's bottom line. "I did what was necessary to keep them from having to pay out of their own pockets."


The commission has been able to pay off old jail bills from the previous fiscal year in the last couple of weeks, but has yet to fully reconcile Smith's budget for the current year.

When Smith leaves office Dec. 31, he is required to leave half of what his department was budgeted to operate in the 2008-09 fiscal year for the next sheriff, according to state law.

Teufel expected the amount of money to be transferred would be between $140,000 and $250,000.

Smith expects the budget revision will reflect whether there are vacancies that are being left unfilled in his department.

Earlier this year amid a spending freeze, Smith said he had as many as six vacant deputy positions in the law enforcement division of his department.

Smith said two current vacancies probably would not be filled before he leaves office because a list of candidates generated through the civil service commission's hiring process has been exhausted.

In addition to the deputy positions, Smith said he hasn't filled part-time court security positions and a process service job.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield on Thursday applauded fellow constitutional officers and other county officials for working with them to make the budget cuts, which resulted in a reduction of about $4 million.

Looking ahead, Teufel said he didn't foresee additional sweeping midyear cuts or another tax increase.

"The only thing that could get after us is the regional jail bill," Teufel said.

However, he said that continued stagnant revenue generated from the engineering and planning departments could force additional budget changes.

The downturn in the construction industry, mostly in home building, has been blamed in part for heightening the county's budget crunch.

Teufel said tackling the county's regional jail expenses also has been a problem that could be addressed more fully by state lawmakers. For 2007-08, the county's bill was about $3.4 million.

Earlier this year, Berkeley and Jefferson counties partnered on an effort to launch a day reporting center as another alternative to incarcerating people, but Teufel doesn't expect that will provide enough of a cost reduction.

The county's other major expenses include $12 million for county employee salaries. The county also has to pay a little more than $2 million per year in debt service on the county's judicial center, which was dedicated in October 2006.

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