County holds budget process forum
On Tuesday evening, the Jefferson County Commission held an informational forum in conjunction with the League of Women Voters to help educate interested citizens on the county’s budget process.
The Commission and county staff have been working in earnest on the upcoming fiscal year 2019 budget, which is due to the state by the end of March.
Tuesday’s meeting outlined much of where revenues for the county originate, including through taxes as well as other sources like fees, grants, and hotel and motel occupancy taxes.
County Administrator Stephanie Grove outlined how much of each person’s tax bill is allocated to different entities, including the Board of Education; the County Commission; the municipality, if an individual resides within municipal boundaries; and the excess levy that was passed by voters in 2016. She explained that the county has no control over moneys designated to the Board of Education, the municipalities or the excess levy, as that levy is a BOE levy, the spending of which is controlled by the school board.
Of the dollars apportioned to the county, Grove explained that more than 47 percent is allocated toward public safety, which includes police, fire, ambulance and 911 budgets. The next largest percentage, just short of 45 percent, goes to general government expenses including all departments of county government, both elected and nonelected. A small remainder – not quite six percent – is allocated to health, culture and recreation.
Michelle Gordon, the county finance director, explained that the county has been attempting to readjust its budget over the past few years to move away from relying on gambling revenues. Those revenues have steadily decreased and, Gordon said, while video lottery revenue appears to be stabilizing, table game moneys continue to drop.
The current numbers, with all requests for funding submitted to the county by all agencies and departments, have a total sought at $27,597,957. However, revenue sources are showing a total revenue for FY19 at only $25,491,770. This means that the county must somehow determine how to balance the numbers, eliminating a deficit of $2,106,187.
Gordon said the Commissioners have received all requests and will receive additional input from each agency and department during scheduled presentations Feb. 12 and 16. The specific schedule for each department can be found on the Commission website, “http://www.jeffersoncountywv.org”>www.jeffersoncountywv.org, as can all budget documents.
Approximately 30 people attended the forum, many of who asked questions following the informational portion. While specific answers on why some departments asked for certain dollar amounts will be clearer following the presentations next week, commissioners did comment on increases in areas of public safety such as the sheriff’s office, the 911 center and regional jail costs. The opioid epidemic in the area is seeing expenses rise in each of these areas.
“If you ask any deputy or EMS provider,” said Commissioner Peter Onoszko, “they are saving the same person’s life three of four times with Narcan. It costs money, and this is an example of how this crisis is affecting the budget.”
Commission President Josh Compton agreed, saying, “It is sad to see that so much money is related to the opioid epidemic. Jail costs are significant with a proposed $530,000 increase.”
Debby Royalty, a member of the League of Women Voters, asked the commissioners how they address the $2.1 million dollar deficit. She wanted to know if it’s simply cut, or whether there are efforts to find other revenue sources.
According to Onoszko, “All component units and department heads come to us with requests. Our job is to determine how to zero out, which we have to by law.”
“It’s a hard decision and often a painful one,” said Patsy Noland, who has been through several budget cycles on the commission.
The commission will host a public hearing on the budget once it has met with all department heads, elected officials and component agencies seeking funding from the general budget, and has determined what portion of those dollars will be designated to what area. The public is invited to attend any or all of the Commission’s budget sessions. If unable to attend, the sessions are available via livestream and in archived format on the county’s website.