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Property values on the rise in Berkeley Co., assessor says

March 07, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Property values in Berkeley County appear to have stabilized after three years of decline, county officials said Thursday’s Berkeley County Council meeting.

The assessed valuation of property for 2013, which is used to project tax revenue, increased by $37.1 million from 2012, according to information Berkeley County Assessor Larry A. Hess provided to the Berkeley County Council.

The assessed value for 2013 is about $4.6 billion.

“It’s very good news,” County Administrative Officer Deborah Hammond said.

The drop in property values and resulting loss of tax revenue over the last several years has forced the county to leave positions unfilled and forgo funding for pay increases, among other belt-tightening measures.  

“We’re going to try to keep the levy rate the same as it was last year, that’s our goal,” Berkeley County Council President Tony Petrucci said after Thursday’s meeting, which included budget request presentations by Hess, County Clerk John W. Small Jr., Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine and Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely is expected to present her budget request next week.

In their respective presentations, Hess, along with County Clerk John W. Small Jr., Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine and Sheriff Kenneth Lemaster asked to be allocated money to give $1,000 across-the-board raises for the employees that work in their respective departments.

Petrucci said after the meeting that the county council, which is charged with balancing the county’s budget, wants to do something for employees, whether it is a $1,000 raise or something else.

Some things requested, including some capital improvement projects recommended for the county council’s consideration last month by Hammond, are not going to be able to done, Petrucci said. Hammond recommended $535,000 be budgeted for a series of maintenance projects, including roof work, roof replacement and painting at the historic county courthouse at 100 W. King St., roof replacement at the facilities shop, painting at the Berkeley County Judicial Center and roof replacement at the county health department’s clinical building, among others.

Aside from the pay increase, Lemaster asked for eight patrol vehicles to replace several cars with high mileage, a vehicle for Animal Control and a replacement vehicle for long distance trips for mental hygiene cases and other department business.
Lemaster also asked to be appropriated money to add two deputies, including one that would be assigned to the new Spring Mills High School that is set to open to students in August. Deputies are already assigned to Musselman and Hedgesville and a Martinsburg Police officer is assigned to Martinsburg High in separate agreements with the Board of Education, which provides the funding for the officers.

Lemaster said the new cars would keep the department’s rotation of patrol vehicles on track, ensure reliability in providing law enforcement service to the public and be a source of pride for the officers.

“It’s almost like getting a pay raise to these guys,” Lemaster said.

The additional deputies would be the first law enforcement positions added to the department since 2006, Lemaster said. There are currently 58 deputies with the department, which received more than 40,000 calls for service last year, Lemaster has said.

Hess, who was a deputy appraiser prior to being elected assessor last year, said he plans to budget the money for his previous salary to hire two people.

Sine’s budget request includes three additional employees for records-related work.

Small, Hess, Lemaster and Sine each acknowledged discussions by the county council to transfer respective department allocations for IT needs, such as computers and copiers, to the county’s IT Department.

In consolidating the IT budgets of each department, the council hopes to be able avoid duplication, revisit IT service-related contracts and possibly net additional savings by buying in larger quantities, Petrucci said.

Lemaster said he is eyeing the replacement of computers that were purchased through a federal grant that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., helped net for the sheriff’s office.

Aside from being presented with the federal Department of Justice grant money in 2006 for laptop computers, Lemaster said the department has used “hand-me-downs” from Games-Neely’s office.

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