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Berkeley County finishes year in black, but new threat looms

July 23, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Budget cutting helped Berkeley County finish the year in the black with about $412,000 in the contingency fund, but a new threat -- unpaid personal and real estate taxes -- is looming, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Thursday.

As of June 30, the county commission was owed about $730,000 in unpaid taxes, the largest amount Hammond said she has seen.

"That's incredibly troubling," Hammond said.

She attributed the gap in revenue to real estate foreclosures and the overall economic downturn.

As of Thursday, there were 545 "distressed" properties, including real estate in foreclosure in Berkeley County, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., a real estate information program.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Hammond said. "Nobody needs to go on a spending spree."

Commission President Ronald K. Collins said "tough decisions" had to be made to keep the county from being in a deficit and keep up with the county's jail bills, which topped $3 million by June 30, which was the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

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In January 2009, the county commission eliminated four positions and in the summer of 2008 eliminated the county's worthless check division, which amounted to the elimination of one position.

For the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the commission increased taxes through a 12 percent levy rate adjustment, cut allocations to outside agencies and froze spending.

"This commission has been very, very frugal in what we've done," Collins said of efforts to operate on a balanced budget.

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