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Berkeley Co. Commission raises levy rates by 3 percent

April 20, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Commission and the City of Martinsburg on Tuesday formally adopted levy rates for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which will result in higher tax bills for residents.

The owner of a residential property in Berkeley County worth $150,000 will pay an additional $21.42 per year based on a 3 percent levy rate increase by the Berkeley County Commission.

The increase in levy rates for Class II (24.86 cents per $100 of assessed value), Class III (49.72 cents) and Class IV (49.72 cents) properties for the 2010-11 fiscal year are the maximum adjustment allowed that doesn't require a public hearing.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve a 12 percent increase in its levy rate. Councilman Roger Lewis voted against the increase and Councilman Gregg Wachtel was absent.

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In addition to paying the county's assessment, owners of a $200,000 residential property in the city will have to pay $16.56 more per year in property taxes because of the city's new levy rates -- 17.22 cents (Class II) and 34.44 cents (Class IV) per $100 of assessed value.

The owner of a business property with the same $200,000 market value will pay $33.12 more in taxes with the rate increase.

In a press conference Tuesday, County Commission President Ronald K. Collins touted efforts to keep tax increases in check by hiring professional staff instead of contracting with the private sector for information technology, human resources, janitorial and maintenance work, and certain legal services.

Collins, who is running for re-election, said the timing of his press conference -- the day before early voting begins for the May 11 primary election -- was "coincidental."

"I really wanted to do this about a month ago, but I had to get all the figures together," Collins said. "I just got them together, and that's why I wanted them out today."

Collins said busy schedules slowed efforts to compile the information, something staff members talked about for several months.

"We wanted the figures to be as accurate as possible, so that's why it's taken the time to do it," Collins said.

Collins said the county's hiring of IT Director Gary Wine and his staff, legal counsel Norwood Bentley III, Facilities Director Jay Russell and Deputy County Administrator Alan Davis has saved county taxpayers $891,789 "over and above" the salaries they have been paid since they were hired, beginning in 2005.

In the last five years, Collins said County Administrator Deborah Hammond helped the county save about $2.6 million, primarily through grants.

County Commissioners Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield, who were not at the press conference, said they had not reviewed the numbers that were presented.

"They have saved money, but that's what they're paid to do," Petrucci said. "Of course, now, you have to look at the payroll, too, what we're paying these people on an annual basis."

The five new positions in the county commission's budget combined with the annual salaries of the county administrator ($85,490) and department of land-use planning and engineering director ($62,000) now account for about $502,000 of the county payroll, according to records maintained by Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

Even with the new hires, Collins said staffing under the supervision of the commission, excluding public safety positions, has been reduced by 11 percent since fiscal year 2006.

The reductions in staffing were made possible through the elimination of positions, and consolidation of the planning and engineering departments.

"We saw areas where we could become more efficient and more effective," Collins said.

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