|Reprinted from the Sunday Gazzette Mail (03/18/01)|
By Scott Finn
Two sheriff's deputies may have to go in Lincoln County. The fire
departments and community centers
in Clay County will have to start paying their own utility bills.
County employees can forget about their
annual cost-of-living pay raise in Mason County.
Putnam and Fayette counties have made news recently with budget and
hiring freezes. But all over West
Virginia, many county governments are being squeezed, according to
Patti Hamilton of the West Virginia
Association of Counties. The cost of health insurance and jails is
going up while the amount of money
coming in remains stagnant, she said.
Hamilton is reluctant to use the term "unfunded mandate," but she says
the Legislature asks counties to
pick up the bill for regional jails and space for the family court
"We have to pay the bills for these things, yet in many instances we
are given no additional money to deal
with them," Hamilton said.
Lincoln County Commissioner Charles McCann can rattle off a litany of
increased expenses. Insurance
rates jumped 40 percent in one year for Lincoln County employees. A
federal grant to pay for police
protection runs out in June, and two of the county's 10 deputies may
be laid off. The heating system in
the 40-year-old courthouse eats up $15,000 in maintenance costs every
McCann says the county may have to lay off four or five people in
July. He hates to have to choose
between county workers and decent buildings and equipment.
"We decided a year ago to computerize the courthouse, and that cost us
$100,000," McCann said. "It's
hard to decide between that and somebody's job, but we felt we had to
Five county employees in Clay County could get pink slips because of a
decline in coal severance taxes,
says County Commissioner Tim Butcher.
Taxes from coal in Clay County are expected to drop from $300,000 last
year to only about $50,000 this
year. Butcher blames the budget crunch on the closing of two mining
The county used to pay the utilities and some insurance costs for
community centers and volunteer fire
departments, but no more, Butcher said.
"When we had money, we spread it around the county. But we can't do
that now," he said.
Mason County Administrator John Gerlach is hoping he won't have to lay
off any county employees. He
doesn't think he'll have to, but raises are out of the question, he
Putnam County is expecting a decline in revenue from last year, the
first time that's happened in the
growing county in at least a decade. Deputy sheriffs won a $550,000
lawsuit last fall, and water and
sewer projects ended up costing the county more than expected. Putnam
County responded with a hiring
and spending freeze and cuts to libraries and parks.
Fayette County commissioners froze all unnecessary spending and hiring
last week, blaming declining coal
severance taxes and decreasing tax income from timberland.
Boone, Jackson and Roane county officials all report tight budgets,
but say they can operate at the same
level as last year. Boone County actually had an increase in coal
severance taxes, partly because the price
of coal is going up, says County Commissioner J.M. Protan.
The Legislature recently changed how taxes are collected on both coal
and timberland, Hamilton said, a
double whammy for some rural counties. She plans to compile a "State
of the Counties" report to see
which counties are taking a hit and what can be done to help them.
To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or