(08/12/2010)
By Dianne Weaver

Calhoun commissioners continued to hear a gloomy forecast regarding the county's finances during this week's meeting, a topic that will likely surface frequently during upcoming meetings.

While the county has some of the lowest taxes in West Virginia and the tax base has remained mostly stagnant for several years, costs have continued to increase.

Administrative Assistant Danielle Stevens and County Clerk Richard Kirby told commissioners that budget issues will be on the front burner, and will likely reach a climax in 2011.

At issue is a decrease of income from several money streams, mostly controlled by the State of West Virginia and associated with a collapsing economy, in addition to never-ending mandates issued by the state that require funding from the county.

The county, once again, is struggling to pay the regional jail bill.

The commissioners did exonerate county owners who have coal under their property that the State Tax Department continues to say should be taxed.

The commission maintains that the county has no mineable coal, although the state says hundreds of properties with deep coal are mineable.

Commission president Bob Weaver said, "This is the third time we've had to confront this issue."

The exoneration will, however, cost the county tax coffers between $13,000 and $15,000.

County Clerk Richard Kirby told the commission that all they will be able to do during the 2011-12 fiscal year is cover courthouse costs while laying off a bunch of employees.

A shortfall up to $200,000 is predicted.

The commission is constitutionally responsible for maintaining the services of the county's elected officials and their services. The commission, during the last year, has virtually eliminated any discretionary spending.

Commissioner Chip Westfall said it has been a struggle to come up with money to keep the Calhoun County Park going, calling it an unfortunate circumstance.

Members of the park board continue to work hard to upgrade and maintain the park through volunteer efforts.

Kirby said there is a possibility of county voters passing an operating levy to keep the county afloat, similar to one passed in Wirt County when they approached bankruptcy.

Kirby said there is a controversial option to consolidate the Town of Grantsville and the county of Calhoun, which would likely be supported by Charleston officials who support city-county consolidations.

At issue for county citizens is whether or not they want to keep their county government in tact, or consolidate with other counties.

In virtually all instances, when small, rural counties consolidate with larger counties, in addition to the loss of local services, taxes have increased.

The loss of a county government would also mean the loss of a county school system.

The commission asked the county's elected officials to cut $5,000 from their budgets last year, with intentions of restoring the cut with carry-over money. That step could not be taken because of lack of funds.

"Our officials have made a lot of adjustments to help with the problem," said commissioner Kevin Helmick.

While the real crisis is predicted for 2011-12, Kirby said the county will have difficulty getting through this year.

- Prosecutor Rocky Holmes advised commissioners that a tax adjustment requested by businessman Dick Morris should be denied, saying that, "It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to ensure all taxes are paid, even if mistakes were made in the courthouse."

- Bill Shock was reappointed to the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

The resignation of Steven Sams from the building commission was accepted.

- The commission approved an emergency request by EMS director Josh Johnson for the release of levy funds, with the promise to have a required audit on the commissioners desk shortly. The ambulance service borrowed $20,000 to meet current expenses.

- Calhoun's E-911 Director Kathy Wood advised the commission that a propagation study for a tower site on Jake's Fork is completed. The building of an additional tower with transmitter will improve communications in areas of the county where service is currently poor.

- The commission went into executive session with Tim Meeks and Fred Rader from the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council to discuss offers on seven properties involved in a Hazard Mitigation Program. Two of the parties have dropped out, three accepted the county's offers, and two had their own appraisals done, with the commission making some adjustments on those appraisals.

- A small pay raise was granted E-911 Addressing and Mapping coordinator Gary Buchanan using designated E-911 funds.

- Richard Wittberg from the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department gave a report on the department's healthy lifestyle program coming to the county.

- Five partnership grants were approved for the Upper West Fork VFD, the Grantsville VFD, the Calhoun County Park, and the Arnoldsburg VFD.

- County Clerk Kirby gave a report on preparations for the special August 28 election.

- Prosecutor Rocky Homes advised that Mark Edwards requested permission for the AlderWood Event campground in Chloe to be used for an Oktoberfest celebration, in which alcohol would be served. Holmes requested the issue be tabled to research the issue.

- Danielle Stevens gave a report on the Summer Youth Work Program, saying the workers performed well and accomplished significant goals at the work sites.

- The commission denied a request from the West Central Beekeeping Association for $2,500.

The next county commission meeting is Aug. 31 at 9 a.m., to canvass the election.

The next regular meeting is Sept. 13 at 9 a.m.


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