$1.3 million axed from co. budget

Another $2.6M must be cut to balance revenues

CHARLES TOWN – In a unanimous vote, Jefferson County commissioners have agreed to cuts to a dozen budget line items, making up about a third of the ground it needs to in order to reduce spending by $3.9 million.

[cleeng_content id="343227574" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]The commission made 12 large cuts to its own budget and those of its departments totaling about $1.3 million.

The cuts were: $45,900 to the County Commission, $13,500 to the dog warden, $80,000 to the Maintenance Department, $1,800 to Homeland Security and Emergency Management, $16,145 to the Engineering Department, $69,564 to the 911 Center, $24,165 to the Geographic Information Systems Department, $18,147 to Parks and Recreation, $3,473 to the Agricultural Extension Service, and $26,695 to Planning and Zoning.

Walt Pellish

Walt Pellish

The commission also recorded reductions of $207,570 by changing all budget lines dealing with health insurance to the actual payment amount and of $786,448 by drawing down the county’s yearly budget contingency, leaving $140,008 in that account which will be drawn down later this year.

Financial Director Tim Stanton has told the commission it needs to reduced spending by $3.9 million to remain fiscally sound.

All of these cuts will have to be approved by the state before they are implemented.

The commission also reached a preliminary consensus on initial cuts to some outside agencies it funds, though a vote on those cuts will not be taken until its next meeting.

It reduced by $5,000 its contribution to the Airport Authority, which it pays to obtain a seat on the organization’s board. John Reisenweber, director of the Development Authority, told the commission that the organization had more than doubled the required amount to obtain a seat due to a loss of funding from other sources, but had not come back to request that money. Reisenweber said he did not think that Airport Authority would seek to collect those funds this year.

The commission also cut its allocation to the Development Authority’s operating budget by $15,343, about 12 percent of its yearly spending on that line item and nearly double the $7,500 Reisenweber had offered in voluntary cuts. The commission funds salaries and benefits to Development Authority personnel through a separate line item, which was not cut.

Commissioner Walt Pellish said he is reluctant to cut funding to the Development Authority since he sees its work as vital to growing the long-term tax base of the county.

“There are two absolutely huge opportunities that we are pursuing that could blow the lid off of things for Jefferson County if we could land even one of them,” he said. “This is where we’ve got to spend our money. This is where you have to make the investment to get the revenues for Jefferson County.”

The most contentious cuts involved the Emergency Services Agency and contributions to local volunteer fire departments.

The ESA warned commissioners that if it had been forced to cut the $268,000 proposed by Financial Director Tim Stanton it would have had to furlough its entire staff for some 10 weeks before the end of the fiscal year on June 30 since 85 percent of its funding goes to wages and benefits.

“We cannot begin to express the detrimental impact a lapse in EMS response would have on the life and safety of Jefferson County residents,” the agency warned in a statement it submitted to commissioners.

The ESA, for its part, said it thought it would only be able to offer $11,785 in cuts through renegotiations of its workers compensation program and other internal savings.

The ESA argued that major cuts to the local volunteer fire departments could have major negative impacts on younger and less well-off departments like Bakerton, Middleway and Blue Ridge.

“Looking to the volunteer fire companies to bear the brunt of such a large cut would be equally difficult,” the ESA said in a statement. “There are a number of volunteer companies that are not able to keep their doors open without County support. This would leave pockets of the county without fire protection.”

The commission chose to cut the ESA’s budget by $32,500, with an additional $25,600 being cut from the contribution to volunteer fire departments.

Stanton also proposed an energy conservation policy, including limiting the use of space heaters by employees, which he projected could save about $7,500 in the next six months.

Most commissioners expressed strong opposition to the notion of cutting in half its $1,000 contribution to each county employee’s health reimbursement account, a health benefit meant to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of health care, at least in the current year. Those contributions are due to be paid out in one week.

Commissioner Jane Tabb expressed skepticism that the county would be able to continue funding the benefit in future budget years, however.

The commission also reached a preliminary consensus to eliminate its remaining contributions to the Jefferson County Council on Aging, which it uses to fund transportation for seniors. It also agreed to cut all remaining funding for the year to PanTran, which operates local buses, despite the agency’s protests that it is already operating at a loss in Jefferson County.

The commission agreed, but did not vote, to cut all but one month’s remaining funding to the Solid Waste Authority, which would eliminate free trash dropoff day from February through July. It also reached consensus to cut all funding to the Partnership for Affordable Housing, which has not yet received any funds.

Commissioners expressed reservations about cutting the $130,000 in remaining contributions to the county’s libraries, pointing out that since those funds are matched by state grants, any cuts they make would be effectively doubled in size. According to Stanton, eliminating that funding would cause at least one full-time employee of the Harpers Ferry Public Library to be laid off.

The commission also agreed to eliminate all charitable contributions for the year, less $5,000 it had already contributed to SafeHaven, a center that helps with the investigation of child abuse. A total of $245,000 in contributions would be eliminated. The commission currently has requests from local charitable organizations totaling about $264,000.

Commissioners also agreed to transfer $139,000 from the county’s Coal Severance Fund to the General Fund in order to pay salaries.

Stanton reported that revenue from taxes on table games has come in well below the projected level, amounting to a shortfall of around $400,000.

Stanton is currently in talks with the county’s other elected officials over reductions to their budgets. Elected officials’ budgets are locked in by the County Commission during its annual budgeting process, and they cannot be cut in the same year without their permission.

The commission also agreed to implement several policies designed to keep the county from facing unplanned expenditures in the remainder of the fiscal year, and to ensure that the county is fiscally healthy in future years.[/cleeng_content]


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