BUCKHANNON - The Upshur County Commission on Thursday approved a $7.8 million budget that Commission President JC Raffety described as "very conservative."
Raffety said commissioners faced more than a $400,000 shortfall heading into the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and that that this year's $7,805,163 budget is approximately $1.2 million less than the 2013-2014 budget, which was balanced at roughly $9 million.
"This year's budget will be a conservative budget, but it will be a balanced budget," Raffety said at Thursday's weekly commission meeting. "We have a budgeted amount of $7.8 million roughly, which is down from last year. The assessed value of properties in Upshur County this year was down $68 million, which also indicated that we have a $412,000 property tax reduction.
"On a budget of $7.8 million, a reduction of $412,000 translates into a very serious reduction of operating revenue," Raffety continued, "so the commission and the elected officials during our budget negotiations worked to maintain a balanced budget recognizing that there has to be reductions in certain areas."
When the commission learns what the rollover amount from the 2013-2014 fiscal year will be - some time before the end of the fiscal year on June 30 - it may have additional money to add into the budget.
"We do not that amount yet, but as it stands now, we have a very conservative budget," Raffety said.
Commissioner Donnie Tenney made a motion to approve the budget, which was seconded by Commissioner Troy "Buddy" Brady before passing unanimously.
"We do like to stay within the budget, and make sure we don't go over budget," Brady said. The commission is required by law to balance the budget, meaning the amount of revenue must match the amount of expenditures.
The 2014-2015 budget does include pay raises for county employees, who received a 2 percent pay raise last year, Tenney said. And while the commission did not lay off any employees, it opted not to fund two vacant positions - an administrative assistant position in the County Commissioners' office and a program director for the Upshur County Extension Service office.
Tenney and Raffety described the Commission's struggle to balance the budget as "arduous."
"We have been meeting daily with the elected officials and this has been arduous progress that we've made," Raffety said. "It's been difficult to try to absorb $400,000-plus dollars in lost revenue. It's not an easy thing to do. I appreciate the assistance provided to the commission by the elected officials and the professional staff within the commission but also the sheriff's office and the clerk's office especially who have been able to assist us in balancing the budget this year, and hopefully in the future we'll see some additional revenue come in.
"We are not like the federal government, we can't print money," he added. "We have to be responsible for the taxpayers of Upshur County, and in line with that, we have to be responsible for the courthouse offices, but I am pleased that we were able to meet that obligation for submittal to the state auditor on time."
County budgets are due to the West Virginia State Auditor's office by today.
In budget-related matters, commissioners received a letter from Deputy State Auditor Ora Ash notifying them of the state Legislature's passage of Senate Bill 1005, which authorizes a pay raise for elected officials who meet certain qualifications. The bill, which is awaiting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's signature, is on track to take effect July 1.
According to letter from Ash, the Auditor's Office must review the "fiscal condition" of each county seeking to implement the raises - including its revenues, expenditures and trends - to determine whether it has ample resources to do so.
Following Thursday's meeting, commissioners said they didn't budget for the pay raises authorized by the bill.
"There's no way Upshur County will be certified for raises, I can guarantee you that," Tenney said.
In other business, commissioners learned that the county has been awarded a $45,000 grant through the West Virginia Homeland Security State Administrative Agency's Homeland Security grant program for the purchase of 42 hand-held interoperable radios to be utilized by the seven county fire departments. The radios will strengthen firefighter safety by enhancing interdepartmental communication, specifically by enabling firefighters from different county departments at the scene of the same emergency to better communicate with one another.
"I want to commend specifically Director (Jim) Farry and Assistant Director (Jim) Farrell (a public information officer) for focusing on this grant," Raffety said. "We haven't secured the funds yet, but it appears very probable. This request was looked on very favorably by the granting authority and within the near future, we will be offering a bid for the radios. Once we've received those bids, we will be able to get those bids out to the fire departments."
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT-Kuba.