|By Bob Weaver|
Calhoun is among the poorest county's in the USA, long accepting of getting by with little,
A long time saying, "Calhoun takes the nation's recessions in stride, not recognizing the difference between good times and bad times."
But that little is becoming less and less.
Tax receipts are down over the last three years by 25 and 30 percent, making it difficult to keep the county afloat and provide basic services, says commissioner president Chip Westfall, although Calhoun has among the lowest taxes on the east cost.
"The county is just barely staying above water by making cuts and watching where every penny is spent," Westfall said.
"Employees and elected officials are paying more of their health insurance, we have had to put off matching money for a court house improvement grant. Elected officials are watching their budgets so that later cuts won't have to be made."
The county has among the lowest number of employees of WV counties, with significant cuts in personnel during past years.
A record number of citizens are appearing on the delinquent tax list.
The Calhoun Sheriffs Department, following a public information request, says it will be providing a list of the increasing delinquent tax numbers for the past five years and a list of decreasing tax collections.
While the amount of shortfall in Calhoun appears to be pennies on the dollar compared to other counties, commissioner Kevin Helmick said the county's property taxes are down about $200,000 from years past.
Helmick said Assessor Jason Nettles has stated the taxes are so low due to Class 3 tax collections, taxation down with vehicles and equipment.
He said the county carryover is going to be around $36,000.
"Which is making it difficult. We had to use $50,000 of our "rainy day fund" to pay bills and payroll for July 2017. Having to use any of that money was very disappointing. We have worked hard to put away money in case of an emergency, but I guess it's great that we had it when we needed it. It will be my goal to put the money back as soon as possible," said Helmick.
Commissioner Michael Hicks said, "A main cause of the financial shortfall is holders, primarily businesses not paying taxes."
Perhaps the saving grace for county finances is the proposed compressor station near the Ritchie line.
Westfall said the TransCanada project is being delayed because the federal agency FERC doesn't have a quorum of commissioners appointed by President Donald Trump and approved by congress.
"All hearings and studies have been completed, but by law official approval can not be done till there is a quorum of commissioners. The land for the compressor has been purchased and surveyed," said Westfall.
When completed. the compressor and pipeline would add between $300,000 to $400,000 annually to tax coffers.
"The compressor station proposed by TransCanada is often referenced as the light at the end of the tunnel for Calhoun County, but there are other avenues for economic improvement," said commissioner Hicks.
"The Dark Skies Project is currently a large focus for tourism in the area. Serving as a liaison for the Commission and the Calhoun County Park Board, I can report that the Board, the Commission, the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, and other stakeholders are obtaining grants to see the project is continued," he said.
It has been unclear just what kind of economic or tax boost the project would bring to the county, unless the project becomes a major attraction to the nation's amateur astronomers.
"I have traveled the state learning about the different segments of the state's economy with the Leadership WV program. Because of this program, I have made connections with numerous economic development officials and private sector business leaders that I can collaborate with to improve Calhoun County," Hicks said. He said he is working on improving broadband service through co-ops.
A PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) proposal by the commission to Calhoun Schools to reduce a $1.7 million deficit has faded with the school system unable to declare the money would be directly applied to the deficit.
Now, the state school system appears to be less concerned about the county deficit, now that many counties in the state are in financial distress.
See "CASUAL DEFICIT": STATE ACCEPTS CALHOUN SCHOOLS DEFICIT REDUCTION PLAN - $1.8 Million Deficit No Longer Crisis
The Mt. Zion PSD is still struggling to find funding to correct a water flow problem on a rather long stretch of water service from the Arnoldsburg area to the Upper West Fork Park, which will be under a Boil Water Advisory for three years come November.
See MOUNT ZION PSD BOIL WATER ADVISORY STILL IN EFFECT AFTER TWO YEARS - Affecting Southern Calhoun Customers
The commission is being challenged to provide 24/7 ambulance service, linked to financial problems.
See UPDATE: COUNTY COMMISSION "LOOKING AT ALL OPTIONS" TO PROVIDE AMBULANCE SERVICE - Future Of Quick Access Ambulance At Risk
Because of state cut-backs, the West Virginia State Police pulled their detachment from the county, now covered by none, one or more officers assigned to the county in a 24-hour-period.
If the proposed elimination of Obamacare and its associated cut-backs with Medicaid, rural medical facilities like Minnie Hamilton Health System will likely close, according to the American Medical Association.
Newly elected commissioner Michael Hicks has resigned from Calhoun Schools and enrolled in WVU law school to become an attorney.
Commissioners attend 25-28 official meetings scheduled annually, with a higher number of meetings during election years, and also have other functions on local and regional boards.
Hicks said, "I am dedicated to attending all Commission meetings and fulfilling my duties on the numerous boards I serve on."
Perhaps in Calhoun County, the good news is having people to show up and give their service and try to help one another in time of need.