Berkeley Co. revenues continue to fall

December 18, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The construction business in Berkeley County appears to remain depressed as development-related fee collections by the county continue to come in well below projections as the midpoint of the fiscal year approaches, according to county officials.

Since July 1, the county's planning department collected about $34,224 in fee-related revenue but spent $128,814, mostly on staff salary and benefits, according to financial statements released Wednesday by Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr's office.

The revenue that was posted amounts to 12.8 percent of the county planning office's expected collection for the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to the statements. Revenue collections for the first six months of the year will not be available until Jan. 10, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said Thursday.

The Planning Commission's budget was reduced by $164,312 on Thursday to $102,675 by the Berkeley County Commission.

"That number, as low as it is, may have to be reduced further," Hammond told commissioners. Inspection fees collected by the county ($195,084) were at 34.9 percent of projections, according to the statements.


The county planning department's spending through mid-December included nearly $450 in overtime pay for staff.

Commission President Ronald K. Collins said the staff rotates planning commission meeting duties and the overtime pay is divided equally.

Planning Department director Stefanie Allemong, who will receive an $11,475 pay increase beginning Jan. 1 as the head of county's consolidated Department of Land Use Planning & Engineering, does not receive additional pay for the meetings, according to Collins. Allemong will be paid $62,000.

Collins acknowledged the planning department was not paying for itself and staff cuts would not be necessary "as of right now, no."

"We're trying to work around this," Collins said.

When asked about eliminating overtime pay, Collins suggested the county was putting itself at risk with compensation guidelines. "Why take the chance?" he asked.

Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci, who previously objected to the size of Allemong's pay increase, suggested the staff could work a half-day when evening meetings are scheduled, rather than pay the extra money.

"Overtime is a touchy thing even (in) in good times," Petrucci said after Thursday's commission meeting.

Collins said he was optimistic about the potential for revenue increases, pointing to the progress of a proposal to create an inland port in Berkeley County.

Inland Port designation advances

The West Virginia Public Port Authority authorized the port's creation Dec. 1, but federal approval of the Eastern Panhandle Inland Port Coalition still must be obtained, attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin told commissioners Thursday.

The port designation would include the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and nearby industrial parks south of Martinsburg, the B&O roundhouse and shops in Martinsburg, and the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park north of the city, Martin said. Five government entities, City of Martinsburg, Berkeley County Commission, airport, roundhouse and county development authorities are expected to be represented equally on the port's governing board, Martin said. Special meetings by city council and the commission are scheduled Tuesday to consider nominees to the board.

With final approval, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers would be staffed full time at the airport ,and Martin has said the inland port designation could help spur economic growth and ease travel for the 167th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard, which is based at the airport.

Martin said Sen. Jay Rockefeller advocated for the creation of an inland port in the Eastern Panhandle 15 years ago, and the attorney said Thursday that a private entity he is representing is pushing for the designation.

Martin said after the Martinsburg City Council's special meeting Thursday that he was not allowed to identify his client.

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