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Berkeley Co. closes fiscal year in the black

July 31, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Berkeley County finished the 2009-10 fiscal year on June 30 with a $1.5 million unassigned fund balance.

Considering the county's recent financial struggles because of the ailing economy, county Administrator Deborah Hammond said finishing solidly in the black was "reason for a parade."

On Thursday, the Berkeley County Commission approved a revision to the 2010-11 budget that appropriates the money carried over from the previous year for insurance ($350,550), general day-to-day costs such as utility expenses and maintenance ($273,257), property rehabilitation ($273,187) and the county's contingency fund ($273,787).

Another $448,775 was allocated for the E-911 fund. Established in 2004, the fund was to be maintained as a separate account from the county's general fund and exclusively used for maintaining 911 services, but that accounting process wasn't followed, officials have said.

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Hammond said the allocation approved Thursday would pay back the E-911 fund in full after having owed $2.4 million.

County leaders inadvertently paid for the cost of providing 911-related services from the county's general fund instead of the special fund for many years, according to a petition filed in June 2008 with the West Virginia Public Service Commission to reconcile the issue.

Hammond said the property rehabilitation appropriation was to more closely account for work on capital improvements, including construction of a vault to store records maintained by Berkeley County Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

The county commission voted 2-1 on May 27 to request proposals for engineering services for a vault. Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci voted against the proposal.

Vault storage is required by state code. Some of Sine's records are stored at the former county administration building at 126 W. King St.

The additional storage space could allow the commission to move forward with a plan to sell the building, which is otherwise vacant.

Thursday's transfer for contingencies increased the fund's balance to $565,047, but Hammond indicated the 3 percent pay raise approved for employees would affect the account. County officials in May said the pay raise would cost the county about $283,637 annually, but on Thursday, the commission voted 2-1 to reclassify a Land Use, Planning & Engineering Department employee's position and increase the individual's salary from $18,672 to $22,060.

Department director Stefanie Miller told the commission that the employee was hired as a scanner, but has since been assigned several additional duties and was being paid less than other people in the department who performed the same work.

Before voting against the reclassification, Petrucci failed to win support for instituting a freeze on hiring or pay increases for employees under the commission's supervision from Commissioners Ronald K. Collins and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield.

Petrucci specifically noted that expenses for the Land Use, Planning & Engineering Department were about $945,000 for the 2009-10 fiscal year and the total revenue collected by Miller's department for planning and development fees was about $508,000.

Petrucci said he felt the commission owed the taxpayers something given the difficult economy.

Collins agreed that the commission had an obligation to the taxpayers to be fiscally responsible, but also insisted they had an obligation to county employees.

"I do not want to see us going back to being a training ground again for the surrounding counties," Collins said of efforts in the last several years to make salaries competitive.

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