Upshur County Commissioners Sam Nolte and President Kristie Tenney, along with commissioner Terry Cutright, approved an $8.8-million-dollar fiscal year 2021-2022 budget Thursday morning.

Faced with plummeting public utility values, CARES Act funds allow county to avoid budget cuts in upcoming fiscal year

BUCKHANNON – After a week of daylong working budget sessions last week, the Upshur County Commission unanimously approved an $8.8 million budget at its Thursday-morning meeting.

The budget – with revenues and expenditures balanced at $8,821,348 – is about $300,000 more than its fiscal year 2020-2021 budget, which was set at approximately $8.5 million, but is still about $100,000 lower than its 2019-2020 budget, which was affected by a record-high regional jail bill.

The Upshur County Commission conducted budget sessions for five days March 15-19 to determine how the county’s funds would be spent in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2021 and wraps up June 30, 2022. Although the regional jail bill and employee health insurance have, in the past, been the most significant factors that affected the budget, Upshur County Administrator Carrie Wallace said a couple other factors were at play in the 2022 fiscal year budgeting process.

Wallace said public utility values caused a deficit of $230,000 in anticipated tax collections; however, funding one-time expenses with the 2020 CARES Act, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, payroll reimbursement funds the county received allowed the commission to avoid budget cuts.

Upshur County Commission President Kristie Tenney thanked all the county departments and outside entities who work with the county for their participation in budget sessions.

“The Upshur County Commission is thankful to have elected officials and supervisors that strive to work together for the betterment of Upshur County,” Tenney said. “The collaboration and reasonable requests made by these individuals are commendable.”

Wallace said the two entities that suffered most severely due to the pandemic were the Upshur County Youth Camp and the Upshur County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which both received $20,000 via CARES Act funding.

“When we met with them, they were obviously struggling because of the pandemic, and thankfully, the commission was able to assist them through the payroll reimbursements they received from the CARES Act funding,” Wallace said. “Of course, we’re still hopeful the American Rescue Plan (passed in 2021) will be able to further assist those agencies, but we have yet to receive the guidance from the U.S. Treasury at this point.”

Wallace said the camp needed assistance leading up to the summer months.

“The camp’s bank balance was so low at this point that the commission knew that they really couldn’t stand waiting any longer for assistance, and everything’s up in the air right now, of course,” she said. “The governor just said fairs and festivals could reopen May 1, so we are very hopeful and optimistic that the youth camp will be able to reopen, but we’re still waiting on the guidelines they’re going to be required to follow.”

Other CARES Act expenditures included: $10,000 for a study of the delivery of emergency services study with JH Consulting; $10,000 for a floor covering replacement in the county clerk’s office; $10,000 for a floor covering replacement in the sheriff’s department; $2,000 for sheriff’s department entry reconfiguration; $16,000 for admin annex windows; $20,000 for a new storage building for the Buckhannon Upshur Recreation Park; $100,000 for a potential property purchase; a to-be-determined amount for security camera server replacement because it is currently out for bid; and lastly, $27,500 for nine sheriff’s department tasers.

The $27,500 budgeted for nine tasers was an essential purchase, Upshur County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Coffman said during budget sessions, due to several of their current tasers being essentially obsolete.

“We’ve talked about it a little bit before, but the tasers the officers are carrying are out-of-date,” Coffman told the commission. “You can’t get anything for them, not even through the company. You can still buy replacement cartridges on a couple sites, but we don’t know how long that will last.”

Regarding the regional jail bill, the county budgeted $800,000 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year the same amount it had budgeted for the current fiscal year ($800,000), which ends June 30, 2021.

The county commission allotted 3 percent raises for elected officials to distribute as they see fit and per state requirements, the county’s contribution to deputy sheriff’s retirement system increased from 12 percent to 13 percent. Wallace said effective July 1, employees will transition from Health Savings Accounts to Health Reimbursement Accounts. Contributions to HRAs will remain the same at $2,000 for a single plan and $4,000 for a family plan.

Wallace said the switch from HSAs, which are owned by employees, to HRAs, which belong to the county as an employer, helped the commission save money.

“It brings expenses down to what we were anticipating for our budget last year,” Wallace said. “It was an additional expense when people were leaving last year, or in FY 21, that we didn’t originally account for. By going with an HRA, it allows the commission to accurately budget what their expenses are going to be, because they know that money goes back to the county, and from what we’ve seen, utilization has been extremely low on the HRA side as well, so that’s always good.”

Capital expenses outlined in the budget included $6,000 for election equipment carts, $6,000 for a commission/circuit clerk replacement server, $14,000 for the Parks and Rec department and $60,000 for the Courthouse Facility Improvement Authority grant, an 80-20 matching grant, for an exterior elevator.

“The elevator will replace the existing exterior elevator/lift that was installed around 2007,” Wallace said. “The issue is that it’s exposed to the elements, which has caused it to deteriorate, and we continue to experience mechanical issues with it. We are hopeful that the West Virginia State Historic and Preservation Office will approve an enclosed unit. It will lift from the courthouse foyer to the first floor of the courthouse. It is the only area that is not ADA-accessible from the annex elevator.”

The commission allotted a total of $89,000 for external entities including: $10,000 for Community Corrections, $8,000 for Tri-County Visitation, $10,000 for Country Roads Transit, $40,000 for the Upshur County Development Authority, $20,000 for the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority and $1,500 for the Upshur County Parish House.

Wallace said the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility will be purchasing 28 new guillotine doors at $1,400, a new stainless steel cat cage at $3,664 and addressing surface water flow issues with rip rap and piping in anticipation of repaving the driveway and parking lot in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

According to state code, revenues and expenditures are required to be balanced, or to match, before county and municipal budgets are submitted to the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office at the end of March.

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