Commission upset by pay raises

BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Commissioners gave their views Thursday about a state-mandated pay increase for elected officials which may have to be paid out of the county’s rainy day fund.

Commissioners said the West Virginia State Auditor recently approved the pay increases for Upshur’s elected officials, despite a more than $400,000 decrease in county revenue from this fiscal year’s budget. The revenue shortfall already has resulted in budget cuts for the county.

“I’m not speaking for the rest of the commissioners, but in my opinion, the state auditor – in approving Upshur County and finding we are qualified to do so (increase the pay) – is making a decision counter to the instructions that we received at our county commission training and, subsequently, we see annually at our annual training,” Upshur County Commission President J.C. Raffety said Thursday.

“This instruction of the County Commissioners has been that we are not, and should not, utilize severance funds, carry-over or rainy day funding for the purpose of trying to provide funding for fixed responsibilities, such as salaries which occur routinely every year, as these funds are not stable and fluctuate each year based on, for example, the amount of coal or gas expected,” Raffety said. “These funds change depending on circumstances.”

Raffety said he did not believe the raise was appropriate at this time because of the decrease of more than $400,000 in severance funds.

“We will be able to afford paying the elected officials as directed by the auditor, from funding which is maintained in our rainy day fund,” Raffety said.

Commissioner Don Tenney said that 15 counties in the state were not certified by the auditor because they were not in a position to give the raise.

“At this point, if they say they’ve certified them, there’s not much we can do, but make the budget changes,” Tenney said.

The West Virginia State Auditor’s office was required by Senate Bill 1005 to complete an analysis of the fiscal condition of the counties, according to a June 5 letter from State Auditor Glen B. Gainer III that was submitted to the County Commission.

“Accordingly, after a detailed review of the current financial condition of your county, we can certify there is sufficient revenue to support the payment of the salary increase to your elected officials,” Gainer wrote in the letter.

Raffety said that it has been eight years since county officials have had a pay raise. Tenney said he is not against the pay raise itself.

“The County Commission’s position on the issue is, we believe elected officials should receive a raise,” Tenney said. “It wasn’t the issue that all the elected officials shouldn’t receive raises as they go through the years of service. It was the issue last year, based on what the auditor originally said, if you have a reduction in revenue from the previous year, then you automatically weren’t certified.”

Raffety said the Commission will have to make budget adjustments as a result of the decrease, and that it has cut or reduced funding to a number of “quality of life” areas the county has supported in the past, such as festivals, events and organizations.

“We have gone on record in previous meetings that the County Commissioners are opposed to this,” Raffety said. “Historically, going back several months now, over 70 percent of West Virginia County Commissions oppose the pay increases of elected officials in this state, citing the economic environment we were living under, existing under, and currently exist under. That was the position that was adopted by the County Commission Association of West Virginia.”

Tenney said the topic will be discussed at a state County Commission board meeting in Wheeling next weekend because of one main concern.

“This will be a point of discussion at that meeting as to whether the auditor has the authority to override the constitutionally mandated budget authority of the county commission,” Tenney said.

“I’m not sure if there are any other counties besides Upshur that have stated they didn’t feel that they would be certified, that the auditor actually overrode that,” Tenney said. “I don’t know if there are any other counties that happened to other than Upshur…

“The main concern of the County Commission Association is, is the state actually usurping authority from the counties and taking away the constitutional authority that the county commission has, which is pertaining to budgetary issues?”