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Berkeley County and Martinsburg approve budgets with modest levy rate increases

In the city, a resident with a property worth $200,000 would pay an additional $6.96 per year

March 24, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Budgets approved Thursday by the Berkeley County Council and the city of Martinsburg for the next fiscal year each include a modest levy rate increase.

The Berkeley County Council unanimously approved a $24.5 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which includes a 2 percent adjustment to the rate used to generate tax bills. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The Martinsburg City Council voted 4-0 to approve a $29.3 million spending plan, which included budgeting more than $9 million for water, sewer and sanitation departments that the county's budget does not include.  

Council members Betty Gunnoe, Gregg Wachtel and Richard Yauger were absent for the vote on the budget, which factors a levy rate adjustment to generate 3 percent more revenue.

Council member Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci Thursday welcomed county residents with concerns about the county's spending plan, saying "the books are always open here in this office."

Petrucci also said he hoped to gain more of the public's trust in being fiscally responsible in the future.

"We are looking out for the taxpayers, I know some might not agree, but this (council) I can assure you does that on a daily basis," Petrucci said.

The revenue generated from the city's levy rate adjustment is expected to offset increases in health insurance, contributions to the public employees retirement system, matching grant obligations for additional firefighters and other costs.

In the city, a resident with a property worth $200,000 would pay an additional $6.96 per year with the levy rate change. Business property owners using the same property and assessed values would pay an additional $13.92 per year, according to city Finance Director Mark Spickler.

County officials did not provide an example on how much property owners would pay under their levy rate increase.

Council member Doug Copenhaver noted the county's finances have been constrained by another sizable drop in the assessed value of property because of the economic downturn.

The assessed values of all Berkeley County property have dropped by more than $500 million in the last two years, according to figures released Thursday by Berkeley County Assessor Patricia A. "Patsy" Kilmer.

For the 2011 assessment year, the county's valuation for tax purposes was $4.8 billion, down from $5 billion for 2010 and $5.3 billion for the 2009 assessment year.

Kilmer said Thursday she expects another drop in assessed values next year as part of the county's three-year assessment cycle.

Copenhaver said he would rather have not had to approve any levy rate increase to balance the budget and hopes the drops in assessed values will end next year.

"The only way that will turn is if the economy turns," said Copenhaver, who noted that he is concerned by the impact of spiking energy costs on the county's budget.

Declining residential property values are primarily responsible for valuation dip, and Kilmer said commercial property, including new developments such as The Commons and Spring Mills Towne Center, have helped offset the loss.  

While early in the assessment process for next year, Kilmer said she did not think commercial property would continue to provide a significant amount to offset the expected decline in property values.

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