BUCKHANNON – Upshur County Commission President Terry Cutright has served as a commissioner since 2015, and the 2020-2021 fiscal year was, by far, the easiest one to budget for, he said.
At their March 26 meeting via teleconference, commissioners approved an $8.5 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2020 and wraps up June 30, 2021.
“This is probably the easiest year we’ve had budgeting,” Cutright in an interview ahead of the vote.
The commission’s budget is balanced at $8,581286 – about $340,000 less than its $8.9 million budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The West Virginia State Auditor’s Office requires counties and cities to submit balanced budgets – meaning revenues match expenditures in March of each year.
Three factors led to the commission being able to spend less and allocate additional to funding to some critical county entities, including the Upshur County Public Library and the Upshur County Development Authority, Cutright and Upshur County Administrator Carrie Wallace said.
A surge in public utility values, a transfer of employee health insurance from a self-funded insurance model to the Public Employees Insurance Agency and a dip in the regional jail bill enabled the county to “adequately fund county offices and accomplish many of their priorities,” commissioners stated in a joint press release in March.
While the county budgeted $900,000 for the regional jail bail for the 2019-2020 fiscal year – the W.Va. Regional Jail Authority charges the county a $48.25 per diem per inmate – the bill looks like it might only amount to about $750,000 based on current data, Cutright and Wallace said.
Wallace explained that as a result of the reduction, the county budgeted about $100,000 – around $800,000 – to cover the cost of the jail bill for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
“We’re looking at the regional jail bill being about $750,000 for fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020) if it keeps trending like it is,” she said. “Of course, that’s without the totals from March, April and May.”
Cutright says he thinks a bill passed by the state Legislature that went into effect in July 2019 has lowered the county’s regional jail bill. That bill took some financial pressure off counties by changing the time frame counties were responsible for housing their inmates.
“Last year, they [the state Legislature] changed the date that we turned the prisoners over to the state,” Cutright said. “I think even having the extra Circuit Court judge has helped. It’s helped in moving cases through the court system quicker.”
Wallace explained the bill now only requires a county to pay for its prisoners from the arrest date to the conviction date; previously, the period was from the arrest date to the sentencing date.
“There’s a period between conviction and sentencing where we used to be paying for them, and now the state is,” Cutright said. “It could run up to 60 days.”
Wallace said that county’s also in better financial shape this year because they expect to save more than $300,000 by switching employee health insurance from a self-insured policy to one with PEIA.
“The difference between the budgeted premium for last year (the current fiscal year) and our premiums for this (upcoming) year is 345,800,” Wallace said.
The commission was able to bring its funding for the county Development Authority back up from $20,000 to $40,000 and up support for the county library from the state mandated amount — $31,500 – by $10,000 to $41,500, Wallace said.
“For some years, the county had been giving the state-mandated amount of $31,500 to the library, but this (coming) year, they brought that back up to $41,500,” she said. “Now, they used to give in the 60-thousands.”
Funding for other external entities include $20,000 for the Buckhannon-Upshur Airport Authority, $1,500 for the Child Advocacy Center, $5,000 for the Corridor H Regional Development Authority, $10,000 for Country Roads Transit, $15,000 for Lewis-Upshur Community Corrections program, $1,500 for the MountainCAP summer food program, $25,000 for Stockert Youth & Community Center, $8,000 for Tri-County Visitation and $1,500 for the Upshur Parish House
In addition, commissioners opted to increase personnel budgets by 3.5 percent and are allowing each elected official use her or his discretion in distributing raises to employees.
Cutright said he wanted to thank county employees, elected officials and external entities for their patience throughout other years, when the commission was struggling to make ends meet.
“I want to be sure and thank all the other elected officials and all the other entities in the county that have in the past worked with us,” he said. “Everybody’s been really understanding and helped us through some tough times, and we just had a better year this year than we were expecting.”