Two additional firefighters in Berkeley County 2012-13 budget

March 12, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley County’s preliminary spending plan for the next fiscal year includes funding set aside to hire two additional paid firefighters full time.

The firefighters would be based at Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department, which requested the county’s help after demonstrating “a real need” for manpower, particularly on weekdays, according to Berkeley Council President William L. “Bill” Stubblefield.

The additional firefighters would leave only Hedgesville and Back Creek volunteer fire departments without paid staff.

Aside from funding for the additional firefighters, Stubblefield said Monday the 2012-13 budget includes money to create an administrative position for the county’s purchasing and accounting division that would benefit all departments.

Stubblefield’s proposal to include a $1,000 pay raise for county employees, however, was all but shelved in the council’s budget session Monday.

Afterward, Stubblefield said he felt that employees deserve a bump in salary after not receiving any increase in pay, including a cost-of-living adjustment, for the last three years.  

“The employees work hard and they are deserving of a raise,” Stubblefield said.

County council, which is the budget-balancing arm of the county government, is expected to review the county’s preliminary spending plan with other county elected leaders in another budget session today. The fiscal year begins July 1, 2012.

Given economic uncertainties, particularly regarding the recovery of property values in the county, council members Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. and Elaine Mauck indicated the timing just wasn’t right to increase county’s salary and benefit obligation.

Copenhaver, however, noted that the spending plan did include some “wiggle room” in each elected official’s budget.

“I think that we’ve done everything we could,” Copenhaver said. “I think we’ve been more than fair.”

Council members reached a consensus on much of the spending plan by adopting the average of allocations they proposed individually.

Some allocations, including $100,000 for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board, remain unchanged from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Council members also agreed to continue to fund the purchase of four police cruisers for the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster Jr., who attended the budget session, said afterward that the department ideally should purchase eight new vehicles each year, but was pleased with the council’s decision to preserve the capital outlay in the budget.

Copenhaver estimated about $250,000 is needed to furnish the new public safety building for the sheriff’s office, but said money wasn’t specifically set aside in the budget plan under consideration.

A projected $1.6 million decrease in budgeted revenues also has been challenging, but Stubblefield said the council has been “scrubbing” the budget numbers to avoid any reductions in force.

Council member Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci said afterward that he didn’t think the county cut enough and Mauck agreed, saying there are a couple figures that she wanted to look at further.

Among the largest allocations in the spending plan is $2.8 million for the county’s regional jail costs, and Stubblefield said after the meeting that he was disappointed state lawmakers didn’t provide counties any relief with jail bills in the Legislature’s regular session, which ended last week.

Senate Bill 526, one legislative proposal that would have provided some relief by diverting real estate transfer tax from the state to the counties where it is collected, died in the House Finance Committee, according to the Legislature’s website.

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