By Bob Weaver

Calhoun commissioners will be scrambling in March to come up with money just mandated by the state to increase employer contribution from 11 percent to 17 percent for the state's retirement fund.

While $60,000 may not sound like a lot of money compared to $750,000 Kanawha County must raise, Calhoun's 2010-11 budget is tight with stagnant revenues, and with several predictions of decreasing revenues.

"Money-wise, it's a 64 percent increase. You're paying 64 percent more in employer contributions," said Patti Hamilton, director of the West Virginia Association of Counties.

The state Consolidated Public Retirement Board is requiring the money to meet a shortfall in the pension program.

Hamilton said the rate increase is hitting county commissions at the worst possible time economically.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper sent a letter to Kanawha senators and delegates, expressing the commission's "true disbelief" over the premium hikes.

Last year, late in the budget year, the Calhoun commission was faced with a loss of $45,000 from the state's synfuel tax and a 12% increase in health benefits.

Calhoun has among the lowest tax bases in the Mountain State.

The health benefit increases had to be passed to the small number of county employees, which meant a pay decrease.

Carper questioned why the adjustment wasn't phased in over time, and noted that there were no decreases in employer contributions in years when state investments were performing strongly.

The commission has scheduled at least three budgeting sessions in March.

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