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County Commission holds budget forum

By Staff | Mar 4, 2016

The League of Women Voters sponsored a forum for Jefferson County residents to hear about the budget process and to petition the County Commission for funding consideration for fiscal year 2017. Michelle Gordon, county financial director gave a brief Powerpoint presentation in which she outlined governmental activities, revenues and expenditures for the county.

Gordon said that the budget process begins in November in Jefferson County, with a completed budget due by March 28 each year. Budgetary projections are comprised of historical data and trends in our region.

The data supplied was from fiscal year 2015, with the majority of money–53 percent–spent on general government, which includes personnel, operating expenses for departments like County and Circuit Court clerks, planning, zoning, Assessor, tax office, engineering and maintenance. Approximately 40 percent of the budget is spent on public safety, including police, emergency services and the 911 communication center. The remaining portion of the budget is spent on culture, recreation, capital projects and other miscellaneous items.

Property taxes are the biggest money generator for the county at 46 percent. Other avenues of income include charges for services, licenses and permits, hotel occupancy and miscellaneous categories.

There has been a steady decline in gambling revenue due to the opening of casinos in nearby areas, and it is expected to further decline with the opening of the MGM casino in Baltimore later this year. Therefore the county is working its way toward reducing its reliance on gambling revenues.

After Gordon’s budget presentation, the meeting was opened to attendees to voice comments and concerns about the budget, with most asking for consideration to be included in budgetary plans.

Of the people that spoke, the majority were there to represent the group, Mountain Cats TNR, which is a non-profit group established to help control the problematic feral cat population by trapping, neutering, and returning the cats to their colonies. Volunteers for the group also vaccinate the cats, helping to curb the spread of diseases, and they pay for these services out of their own pockets.

Morgan Spielman spoke about Mountain Cats TNR saying, “Our whole point is to stop the feral cat population. A lot of people say, ‘just get rid of all of them’ (exterminate), but that doesn’t work. If you went through and took out every cat that’s here, new colonies are just going to move in. Trap, neuter, return is a better option. I can tell you that there was a colony of 300 cats in Leetown. That number is down to 37 now. It does work, it’s just a matter of doing it. The streets of Ranson have over 100 hundred cats right now that nobody wants to claim or do anything with.”

The feral cats are spreading diseases to other cats, and even raccoons, and the large numbers of cats are disrupting the bird population.

“We came to speak tonight,” continued Spielman, “to get the public on board with what we’re trying to do here.”

In addition to Mountain Cats, several people spoke in favor of adding funding to Jefferson County Parks and Rec, the Historic Landmarks Commission, the Animal Welfare Society and the public libraries.

The Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library wanted to have more funds to increase circulation and programs, thereby increasing attendance.

“The library provides us with a place where we can gather knowledge and educate ourselves. It’s the one place where we can go for free,” said local author, John Michael Cummings. “It’s open to the public, young or old, and it’s all sorts of knowledge that’s world-wide. The library keeps our minds strong, healthy and growing.”

The commissioners did state that they don’t know what the levy estimate is going to be yet for FY 2017. That information comes from Charleston and has not yet been received. The commissioners look forward to hearing from other department heads and elected officials in continuation of the process.

A budget breakdown is available on the website: jeffersoncountywv.org.