Last updated: March 14. 2014 5:08PM - 1194 Views
Beth Sergent bsergent@civitasmedia.com

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POINT PLEASANT — The upcoming budget year for the Mason County Commission is the worst its seen, according to commissioners.

Though the new budget hasn’t been completed and voted upon yet, cuts are expected to surpass those made in the last fiscal year, which saw 50 percent cuts across the board for many organizations.

The new budget was discussed at Thursday’s Mason County Commission meeting with Commissioners Miles Epling, Rick Handley and Tracy Doolittle in attendance, along with County Administrator John Gerlach and County Clerk Diana Cromley.

Gerlach said there’s been a significant loss in personal property revenue in Class III and IV in the county, which is defined as non-residential property. Though no names were officially discussed, it’s public record one of the biggest hits the county has taken in non-residential property revenue are losses attributed to Appalachian Electric Power’s Philip Sporn Plant, which is being systematically taken offline. Changes in the river transportation industry, as well as operations ceasing at the Felman plant in New Haven, aren’t helping the issue, either.

The loss in revenue has been so significant the county has dropped from Class II to Class III by the state when it comes to minimum and maximum valuation of property. These classifications determine the compensation of elected county officials, which means county officials in Mason County will take a 3 percent decrease in salary starting July 1.

The first thing the county commission is required to fund, according to the West Virginia Code, are the constitutional offices of the courthouse. The commission says it is trying to avoid layoffs. Once the offices are funded and that stipulation of law is met, the commission then looks at funding other organizations, such as EMS, fire departments, etc.

The numbers point to a bleak budget year with $541,202 in reduced tax revenue. This, coupled with last year’s loss of $429,000, created a nearly $1 million hole in the budget that is due in Charleston on March 28. Commissioners have been extending offers to meet with those affected by what will likely be the county’s new budget and plan to sign off on it at a public meeting set for 9 a.m. March 21. The finalized version of the budget will be published after March 21 by the Point Pleasant Register.

In addition to loss of revenue, the commission is still dealing with an increase in jail costs and other costs related to what Gerlach called the “tremendous increase of individuals in the judicial system” which compounds the problem. On Thursday, Gerlach said 38 people were in the day report program, 20 on home confinement, and the county averages 30 to 40 inmates in the regional jail system. Jail costs last year topped $700,000, a figure that would be higher if not for what Gerlach called local court officials’ “efficient use” of alternative sentencing programs.

Other business at Thursday’s meeting:

  • Commissioners received letters both supporting and protesting the county changing its namesake from George Mason to Stevens Thomson Mason. Commissioners decided to send this information to the West Virginia Department of History and Culture for its official opinion before making a final decision.
  • Commissioners signed a proclamation from Region II Development Authority declaring April as “Fair Housing Month.” Also signed, a letter of support for a grant to purchase court security items, including a possible baggage scanner that costs around $25,000-$27,00p — which would be paid for with grant money, if approved.

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