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Berkeley County looking to cut expenditures

March 19, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Commission is eyeing the possibility of more layoffs, spending cuts to "outside" agencies and a levy rate increase as part of options to help balance the county government's budget for the next fiscal year.

In a rare meeting of all of the county's elected officers Thursday, all four options for the county's 2009-10 budget presented by Count Administrator Deborah Hammond included a 12 percent increase in the levy rate that is used to generate property tax bills.

While smaller rate increases are still being considered, the owner of a residential property that has a $150,000 market value would pay a little less than $2 more per month in taxes with a 12 percent increase, Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said.

A public hearing about the county's intention to increase the levy rate is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in commission chambers at 400 W. Stephen St.

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Hammond said in her presentation that a 3 percent levy increase would still result in a deficit (about $2.6 million), unless 12 percent cuts were made in county government offices and to a number of government-supported agencies, including the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board, Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority (recycling).

The county government would still have to absorb a 9 percent cut if it eliminated all outside agency funding with only a 3 percent levy rate increase, Hammond said.

Even with the additional money generated by a 12 percent levy rate increase, the budgets for the sheriff, prosecuting attorney, circuit clerk, county clerk and assessor would remain frozen at the spending levels approved for the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to the options presented.

And certain outside agencies would still receive 10 to 20 percent less from the county than the current year, Hammond said.

Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said eliminating allocations to agencies, including the county health department, senior center and Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, would put them in jeopardy of being able to provide services he believes are too valuable to end.

Other cost-saving options being explored include the elimination of three positions currently paid through the county commission's information technology department, but have been hired and supervised by Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine.

Sine said Thursday evening that she was later told that the positions might be moved into her budget with the expectation that she find the money in her spending plan to pay them.

Additional reductions in the county's engineering, planning and building inspection departments were among the options presented.

The commission appeared in agreement that any additional money generated by the levy rate increase would be spent on public safety.

Sheriff Kenneth M. "Kenny" Lemaster Jr. has said he could not operate his department without funding being restored to levels that were cut in previous budgets.

In a separate action Thursday, the county commission authorized Lemaster to apply for federal stimulus grant funding that would pay the salary and benefits of five deputies for three years, with the expectation the county would pick up the cost for the fourth year.

"We are trying to direct every penny we can find to your budget," Stubblefield told Lemaster Thursday in the commission's morning session.

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