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Berkeley Co. hopes to keep tax hike at 3%

March 10, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council on Thursday decided to limit any possible levy rate increase to no more than 3 percent, voiding the need to schedule a public hearing that is required for a higher increase.

County Council member Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he would like to limit any levy rate increase to 2 percent.

"That's my goal," Petrucci said after hearing Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster's appropriation request for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

 "I think it can happen."

If the county council did not adopt a 2 percent rate increase, Petrucci said he and other council members would have to find about $350,000 elsewhere in the county's budget and he predicted that would be difficult.

Council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Thursday that he needed more time to review the appropriation requests from the sheriff and other county elected officials before commenting on what rate increase he would support, if any.

"We've got to keep the government running and we got to do it as economically and efficient as we can," Stubblefield said.

At least two council members — Doug Copenhaver and Elaine Mauck — have said they did not want to burden the taxpayers with any additional increase in the levy rate.

If adopted, a 3 percent levy rate increase would support a projected $25 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to County Administrator Deborah Hammond.

Lemaster on Thursday requested a $1,000 across-the-board pay increase for employees in his office and requested money to purchase four new cruisers. The sheriff was the only county elected official to fail to submit an appropriation request to the council by March 2 as required by state law, according to county officials.

After his presentation, Lemaster said he had been working on the budget for about a month, but was unable to appear before Council to present his request, at least in part, because he was out of town for two conferences.

Aside from insuring county offices are appropriately funded to operate, Hammond and Stubblefield said budget mandates included about $2.5 million for debt service, another $2.5 million for jail costs and about $676,000 for the county's public library system.

• The Berkeley County Council will hold a public hearing on April 7 to consider input from the community on the county ambulance authority's request to increase its household fee by $15 a year.

The proposed increase — from $50 to $65 — already has been criticized by residents in a hearing held by the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority.

Ambulance authorities have requested the increase to keep up with demands for service, retain professional staff and replace ambulances. The agency handled about 5,000 transports last year.

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