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Berkeley Co. workers face layoffs

December 04, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Commission will lay off several employees it supervises -- possibly five or six -- by the end of January 2009 as a result of a projected $1.5 million deficit, officials said Thursday.

"We're going to try to give 30 days notice," Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said after the commission's regular meeting. "Nothing will be done over the holidays."

By a unanimous vote, the County Commission directed human resources director Alan J. Davis to identify jobs that could be eliminated within the county's planning, engineering, data processing/IT and facilities departments. Davis is supposed to present the information at the commission meeting next week. The commission also has oversight of the county's 911 Central Dispatch and office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, but Collins said those departments were not being considered for staffing reductions.

All three commissioners said Thursday they already decided not to fill a clerk/receptionist position in the commission's office. That job is being vacated by Betty L. Swartz, who submitted a resignation letter Monday, citing health reasons.

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County Planning Department GIS coordinator Matthew T. Mullenax on Monday also announced his resignation, but Collins said he hoped to keep the position open, rather than immediately eliminate it.

"Matt's done a great job for us, I'm sure we'd like to fill that (job)," Commission President Steven C. Teufel said after the meeting.

Teufel said he didn't want to see anybody get laid off, but noted some of the county's revenue projections for the current fiscal year are not close to being met.

So far, only about 6.9 percent of the revenue projected to be collected by the planning department for 2008-09 has arrived and commissioners already have reduced the budget by more than $500,000, Teufel said.

Fees collected by the county clerk's office and for engineering department inspections are more than 10 percent below budgeted projections, Teufel said.

The layoffs are the latest round of budget cuts to be announced by the commission since evidence of the housing market's decline began to appear on county ledgers in the summer of 2007. Earlier this year, the commission eliminated the job of an employee who processed "worthless check" complaints in Berkeley County Magistrate Court.

Months before that, the commission announced a hiring freeze and asked other elected county officers to cut their budgets to help balance the books for the 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

By that time, the county had $173,954 left in the general fund, but also had $159,120 in unpaid bills that were dated on or before the year's end, according to an audit of finances released in October.

The budget adopted for the 2008-09 fiscal year was about $3.1 million less than the spending plan adopted the year before, according to county records. Commissioners increased the levy (tax) rate on county property owners and quietly abandoned a pay raise plan for county employees to balance the current budget. Davis, who received a $10,000 pay increase, was the loan exception.

Collins on Thursday defended Davis' hiring, saying the HR director has helped save the county a substantial amount of money.

After the commission voted to proceed with a "reduction of work force policy" on Thursday, Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Jean Games-Neely told commissioners that she and other county elected officers still may return this fiscal year to request a "small infusion" of money so they can carry out their constitutionally required duties.

"Everybody I think, is doing everything they can to hold the line (on spending)," Games-Neely said.

But that might not be enough for her office if the economy continues to sink and crime goes up, she said.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield told Games-Neely that he thought the chances of getting an infusion of money from them was "very remote," despite the latest round of cuts.

"I think the well is going to be pretty dry," Stubblefield said.

After the meeting, Stubblefield acknowledged the payment of $22.14 per hour to the commission's former executive administrative secretary for contracted services in recent months did not appear to be fiscally responsible, given the budget problems.

"In the future, we're going to be very judicious," Stubblefield said.

County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Thursday that Sherry Cain was working in the commission office on an "as-needed basis" and her responsibilities included reception duties in Swartz' absence, training of employees and completion of a records management project made possible by a state grant.

Hammond said Thursday that the wage Cain has received through the agreements was based on the salary she was receiving upon her retirement in June. Cain has been paid about $9,100 since July, according to records filed with County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

Hammond said she was "trying to be consistent" with how other county employees have been compensated. County Commission secretary Pam Swartwood, who also left her job this summer, since has received about $2,700 in a similar contractual relationship, records how.

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