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No hike in Jefferson County taxes

March 25, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Jefferson County property owners won't see a hike in their real estate taxes this year, but two county employees will be losing their jobs following a 3-2 vote Wednesday by the Jefferson County Commission.

The budget, adopted Wednesday, balances out at $18.5 million, about the same as last year, County Administrator Leslie Smith said.

The commission offset a drop in revenue with departmental cuts, "some down to the bone," commission President Dale Manuel said.

Some departments have been cut so drastically "that it's impairing their ability to do their jobs," he said.

Manuel and Commissioners Patsy Noland and James Surkamp staved off an attempt by Commissioners Lyn Widmyer and Frances Morgan to raise $800,000 for the new budget through a tax hike, Manuel said.

Revenue is down because of drops in building permit, land transfer and new construction fees, plus a 7 percent drop in the county's share of video lottery proceeds, he said.

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The vote to adopt the budget also passed on a 3-2 vote, with Manuel and Noland dissenting.

Manuel said the entire county budget process needs to be restructured.

"We're letting county government grow to the point where we will no longer have the ability to fund it," he said.

Departments such as law enforcement, Planning, Zoning and Engineering and Capital Planning are growing fast and adding personnel. Fourteen new positions were added in a single year, Manuel said.

The commission has approved raises ranging from 7 percent to 24 percent to two-thirds of the county's employees, he said. The other third received pay increases of 4.5 percent.

"We're adding new programs, too," Manuel said. "We're growing too fast. We have to cut some agencies. We need to look at all departments and decide which ones are constitutional, which ones we need and which ones we don't need. The whole budget needs to be restructured."

The two positions being cut in the new budget include an administrative slot in the planning department and an unfunded one in the county clerk's office, Manuel said.

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