Berkeley County Council passes $24.9 million budget

Funding cut for several unfilled courthouse security-officer positions but no reductions in force

March 22, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The $24.9 million spending plan unanimously approved Thursday by Berkeley County Council for the next fiscal year cuts funding for several unfilled courthouse security-officer positions, but there are no reductions in force, officials said.

The general budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is nearly $2 million less than the starting budget for the previous year, but includes funding for two additional paid firefighters and an administrative position, according to the official budget document and council President William L. “Bill” Stubblefield.

The salary for the administrative support position will be funded by federal stimulus funding channeled through the Workforce West Virginia program, but the county still will be responsible for the cost of the individual’s benefits, Stubblefield said.

Councilman Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci said the budget reduces Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster’s budget by a little more than 4 percent by eliminating funding for seven or eight vacant court security-officer positions and reducing the allocation for purchasing new sheriff’s deputy cruisers from four to two. Smaller cuts also were made to the sheriff’s tax office and animal control, Petrucci said.


Lemaster said Thursday he needed more time to review the county’s spending plan before commenting on it.

Petrucci said he felt the number of law-enforcement deputies budgeted was adequate for now, but suggested future increases in patrol staffing should be considered.

Lemaster said his budget currently allows for 58 law-enforcement officer positions, including himself and an unfilled chief deputy post. A number of deputy positions are also currently vacant, but funding for those was not eliminated, Petrucci said.

The last increase in the sheriff’s department law-enforcement staffing came with the opening of the Berkeley County Judicial Center in 2006 when eight deputies were hired. A sheriff’s deputy also has since been hired in a financial agreement with the county school board for Musselman and Hedgesville high schools, Lemaster said.

Aside from the sheriff’s office cuts, the budget for the 2012-13 reduces funding in most other accounts, including those managed by the other elected county officials, but also allocates $172,000 to the county’s rainy day fund, which is managed by the council.

With the adjustment, the rainy day fund balance is $923,557, according to the budget document.

“When I first came on board, we had zero in that account,” Petrucci said. “We’ve come a long way.”

The budget approved Thursday does not include money for furnishing the new public safety building for the sheriff’s office law-enforcement division. Petrucci also said the county could very well be saddled with more fuel costs due to projections of $5 per gallon gasoline.

The 2012-13 budget is based on the county’s portion of taxes collected from county property that had a total assessed value for tax purposes of $4.5 billion.

The property values dropped by about $193 million from the previous year, according to the budget document.

Because of the decline in property values, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said after the meeting that most residential property owners would not see in an increase in the county portion of their tax bill this year.

Stubblefield lauded the efforts of Hammond, fellow council members, fellow elected officials and staff for working together in the budget process.

Petrucci said the budgeting process this year was “definitely the most intense” he has been a part of since taking office, but worthwhile.

“We’re all here to do what’s best for the taxpayers,” Petrucci said.

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