Commission won’t support salary increase

The Upshur County Commission – following the lead of the County Commissioners’ Association of West Virginia – will not support state legislation calling for salary increases for elected officials in 2014.

Commission President Donnie Tenney made the announcement during last week’s commission meeting, noting that 70 percent of the CCAWV recently voted against any state bill that proposes a raise for elected officials.

“A lot of counties are laying people off because of the coal severance tax reduction, and I just don’t feel we should – and we will not – support a salary increase for 2014,” Tenney said. “Other elected officials might be in favor of it, but the county commissioners are the ones who have to figure out where all the money is coming from.”

Tenney said Upshur County could save $100,000 by not allotting money for the proposed raises.

“This effort (to pass a bill that would implement salary increases for elected officials) has been in place for the last two years, but the state economy is actually worse this year than it’s been in two years,” Tenney said.

He went on to say that the commission had been advised to put any unused revenue into a rainy day fund.

One of the main reasons the CCAWV and the Upshur County Commission won’t support salary increases is because of continued decreases in coal severance tax revenue, Tenney said.

“It takes an awful lot of oil and gas production to make up for the revenue we were receiving from the coal severance tax,” Tenney said, “and coal production is going down.”

According to a press release from CCAWV Executive Director Vivian Parsons, other reasons for the county commission association’s decision include: the rise of drug-related incarcerations and subsequent soaring jail bills; lagging economic growth; budget cuts on the state and federal levels that could reduce grant funding and other resources to counties; recent EPA regulations that will take a further toll on already-reduced West Virginia coal mining production; slowed production of plants and mines leading to layoffs and shutdowns across the state that could reduce counties’ tax bases; and fallout from failed legislative attempts to control county lawsuits due to firing practices and unfunded mandates.

“Even some counties that supported a raise in theory admitted that, due to some recent county budget constraints, they would not have enough money in the county coffers to cover the cost of a salary hike,” Parsons wrote in the release. “At the end of the day, Commissioners just could not support a salary increase for themselves and other elected officials when their fellow taxpayers face, in many counties, a 10 percent unemployment rate.”

In other statewide news, Tenney said the commission had received word that the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority Board has voted to leave the inmate daily billing rate unchanged at $48.25 for the fiscal year that commences July 1, 2014. In a letter submitted to Tenney, Joe DeLong, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, explained that the board’s “fiscally conservative decision” stems from knowledge that there will be marked reductions in the state’s inmate population over the next year.

That reduction will result from the implementation of Senate Bill 371, or the Justice Reinvestment Bill, which targets prison and jail overcrowding by providing a new sentencing option that pairs intensive supervision with community-based drug rehabilitation treatment. The Justice Reinvestment Bill also requires all judicial circuit courts to develop adult drug courts by July 1, 2016. In addition, about 600 to 1,000 Division of Corrections inmates will be transferred to “refurbished and expanded prison facilities,” resulting in a loss of about $11 million in annual revenue.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the commission approved an application for funding assistance through the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority. If received, the $20,000 grant would be used to “repair and possibly tear down” chimneys on the Upshur County Courthouse, which pose a safety risk, Assistant County Administrator Jennifer Dinkelo told the commission. The application notes that the chimney’s tops are deteriorating because of their age and weather events.

“The brick and mortar joints chip away, and sometime fall in the alleyway between buildings,” the grant states. “The general public and employees use this alleyway, making these conditions a safety concern.”

Contact Katie Kuba by email at Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.