POINT PLEASANT — An unexpected budget surplus has left the Mason County Commission in a position to reinstate funding to several outside agencies after cutting funding earlier this year.
Back in March, when the budget for Fiscal Year 2014-15 was approved, it was done so with some severe cuts to all outside agencies not required to be funded, by law, by the commission such as elected county offices in the court house. These decisions were made after declining tax revenue severe enough to drop the county’s tax classification with the state and uncertainty about the regional jail bill which had been a soaring expense.
The new budget year kicked in July 1 and afterwards, a surplus remained. County Administrator John Gerlach spoke about the surplus at Thursday’s regular meeting of the Mason County Commission. Gerlach said the unexpected surplus in the amount of $432,221 basically came down to three factors — a retired bond payment 25 years in the making of $41,935; a regional jail bill which was $267,676 less than expected; and two job vacancies in the county clerk’s office and assessor’s office for total of $119,046. It should be noted the total savings of these job vacancies include not just base pay but associated fringe benefits and other savings which included hiring new people at lower rates than those they replaced.
This meant, the commission was able to restore funding to most outside agencies, many to their previous level in FY 2013-14. This breaks down as follows:
The Ambulance Authority, which was cut completely in the most recent budget, will now receive $60,000. The libraries, which were cut completely in the recent budget, will now receive $25,500. The health department, which was cut completely in the recent budget, will now receive $12,500. Community Action, which was cut completely in the recent budget, will now receive $5,000. The Development Authority, which was cut completely in the recent budget, will receive $5,000.
As for local fire departments, New Haven went from getting $3,500 to $13,500; Mason went from getting $3,000 to $13,000; Point Pleasant went from getting $5,500 to $15,500; Valley went from getting $3,500 to $13,500; Leon went from getting $2,500 to getting $12,500; Flatrock went from getting $2,500 to getting $12,500.
Also, community buildings in Hartford, New Haven, Henderson, Letart, Baden, Beech Hill and Gallipolis Ferry went from getting zero dollars on July 1 to $1,000. Leon Town Park went from getting zero dollars to $400. The commission also reinstated funding to Battle Days at $1,250; The Point Pleasant Regatta at $1,250 and Mason County Tourism at $3,000.
When asked why the regional jail bill was less than anticipated, the discussion turned to alternative sentencing programs and arrests being down for part of the fiscal year, Gerlach said.
In addition to these budget revisions, also discussed were raises for county office holders as formulated by the state and passed by the legislature. Earlier this year, office holders were asked to request the salary increase in writing, if it was deemed financially possible and approved by the W.Va. Auditor of State’s office. These raises are in reference to Senate Bill 1005.
In a letter dated Aug. 12 to the county commission, Glen Gainer, state auditor, writes “Based upon the information we recently received, telephone conversations and information previously submitted to us, we can certify there is sufficient revenue to support payment of the salary increase to your elected officials, effective July 1.”
SB 1005 allows for a 12 percent salary increase after nine years of no increase for office holders. In Mason County, due to its tax classification dropping to Class III, office holders had already lost 2.5 percent of their salary as formulated by the state based upon tax revenue.
The revised budget, complete with raises to county office holders, was not unanimous. Commissioners Rick Handley and Miles Epling voted for the budget revisions with Commissioner Tracy Doolittle voting against it. Doolittle said she was not opposed to reinstating funds to outside agencies which were cut in an earlier version of the budget but felt the county should’ve waited another year before considering the salary increases of elected officials.
The raises break down as follows, according to the auditor of state’s office. In Class III: County Commission (this includes the increase of all three commissioners total, not a single commissioner), total increase for all three combined $15,608.91; County Clerk, total increase $7,803; County Sheriff, total increase $6,407.31; County Prosecutor, total increase, $12,242.86; Circuit Clerk, total increase $7,803.85; County Assessor, total increase, $6,407.31. All of these salary increases to the county budget total $56,274.07. It should be noted the raise breakdown for elected officials reported here includes salary plus the cost of FICA and retirement.
In other business:
All three commissioners commended organizers, volunteers and exhibitors who participated in the Mason County Fair and also honored fair royalty. A photo of commissioners with fair royalty will appear in an upcoming edition.
Gerlach reported the Office of W.Va. State Fire Marshal would like to see the county correct some electrical issues in the court house, including putting in more grounded outlets.
Gerlach also reported sanding and refinishing of the second floor of the old hardware building, now home to the sheriff’s department, was completed.
Commissioners reappointed Dorsel Keefer to the Mason County PSD Board of Directors.
Commissioners approved the full-time hiring of Justin Casto for Mason County 911 to fill a position created by the resignation of Justin Nance. Commissioners approved the part-time hiring of Jack Rhoades and Victoria Nicholson for the Mason County 911 Center.
Commission meetings were set for 4 p.m., Oct. 9 and 23; 4 p.m., Nov. 13 and 20; 4 p.m., Dec. 4 and 18.