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CHARLES TOWN – The Jefferson County Commission kicks off a series of public discussions today through Friday to begin assembling another annual budget of roughly $26 million or more for the county’s government operations, starting July 1.

“We ask a lot of questions, and some of our presentations are rather lengthy,” said Commissioner Jane Tabb of the county’s budgeting process. “It’s quite a few intense days of listening to budget presentations.”

This year, the county commission received spending requests for a 2020-2021 budget totaling $30 million, while facing projected revenues—without imposing new tax or fee increases—of about $26 million.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., the commission plans to review $1.8 million in proposed capital funding projects, including a preliminary proposal to build a new county government office complex in downtown Charles Town.

Earmarked for discussion is $1 million in proposed spending for the office complex for fiscal 2021 and $4 million for fiscal 2022.

How to fund increasing staffing and operational needs for police and emergency services—which represents $14 million total or about 47 percent of the county’s overall budget — has become a recurring theme in recent years.

While required to maintain a balanced budget for county government operations, the county commission has had to make decisions yearly to approve, trim or turn down various funding requests from public safety agencies.

More than half of the county government’s overall expenses pay staff salaries and wages. Funding requests for new law enforcement and emergency services staffing this year total about $3.3 million, the biggest share of the new funding requests.

Allen Keyser, director of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency, which oversees the county’s paid firefighting and ambulance personnel, is asking to fund 27 new full-time first-responder positions at a cost of $2.2 million. The ESA, which supplements the volunteers at the county’s seven fire stations, operates currently with 33 full-time and 35 part-time paid firefighter-medical responders positions and a $2.3 million budget.

Keyser said last week that asking for 27 new positions came at the request of the chiefs at the county’s volunteer fire departments. Those additional employees would provide more than 1,100 hours a week of manpower responding to emergency calls from the fire stations, he said.

The county’s fire departments are asking the commission for $568,800 in funding, or $81,142 for each fire department. The request is about $12,000 less than the county provided the fire departments for the current budget year. The fire departments have received $665,000 during the past two years.

Last month, to help the county continue to fund the fire departments, Commissioner Patsy Noland restarted a past debate over the idea of imposing a new fire services fee — in addition to an ambulance fee — for residents.

Households pay a $39 yearly fee that partly pays for ambulance services.

Keyser is scheduled to present the proposed funding for firefighting and ambulance services at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Sheriff Pete Dougherty is requesting that 10 new deputy positions be funded at an increased cost of $673,000.

The sheriff department’s policing operations receive about $4.3 million a year and employ 31 deputies.

At least five of those deputies would be assigned to traffic enforcement and safety, major crime investigations and a regional drug and violent crime task force, the sheriff said last week.

Dougherty said the funding request for five of the 10 requested deputy positions would depend on the sheriff’s department receiving federal grant money later this year.

If the sheriff’s department receives the federal grant, the county would pay 25 percent of the cost of five deputy positions over three years, or about $92,000 in total.

County Finance Director Michelle Gordon cautioned that the federal grant would require the county to continue to employ those five deputies—and pay their full salaries and benefits—for at least a year beyond the three-year grant.

That extra year of funding would cost the county about $1 million, she said.

Dougherty received permission from the commission last week to take the first of three steps in applying for the grant, but he said those steps won’t commit the county to accepting the grant and its requirements.

The sheriff is scheduled to outline proposed budgets for police, tax office and animal control departments at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Jeffrey Polczynski, director of the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Center, is seeking four new positions — three dispatchers and a 911 software system administrator — that would cost $251,000 a year. The center operates now on an annual budget of $2.2 million and 27 full-time staff positions, five of which are vacant and attempting to be filled.

Polczynski said the additional dispatcher positions are needed to respond to an increase in 911 call volumes and other issues. He is scheduled to present his department’s budget request starting at about 3 p.m. today.

Prosecuting Attorney Matt Harvey is requesting a new administrative support position that would require $58,000 in annual salary and benefit costs. The prosecutor’s office has a current budget of $1.8 million and a staff of 20 people. Harvey’s budget presentation begins Friday at 9:30 a.m.

First up for discussion starting at 9:30 a.m. today, however, the county commission will hear requests or review proposed funding for several agencies and non-county organizations.

Some major requests include $818,900 for the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission; $502,077 for the Jefferson County Development Authority; $422,100 for the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and $184,851 for the Jefferson County Day Report Center drug-counseling judicial sentencing program.

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