County budget concerns debated

PARKERSBURG – A request for payroll changes spurred heated discussion at Thursday’s Wood County Commission meeting.

The commissioners earlier refused to approve payroll changes requested by the sheriff’s tax office.

Sheriff Ken Merritt and Chief Tax Deputy Bob Tranquill attended Thursday’s meeting, but were not listed on the agenda. Tranquill said the sheriff’s department was asked to attend the meeting to discuss the matter with the commissioners.

“We have the funds in our budget, we are not asking for additional money. This is for compensation of additional duties which are being performed now by these employees,” Tranquill told commissioners.

“We are concerned about our carryover, we have to balance the budget,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

The county’s fiscal year ends June 30 and officials are concerned they will not reach their projected ending balance.

“We don’t expect you all to turn money back in to us if you need it, just don’t spend it for the sake of spending. And any changes would have to be funded in next fiscal year’s budget,” commissioner Steve Gainer said.

The county’s projected ending balance for 2013-2014, is $900,000. The projected ending balance in the new budget, which begins July 1, is $800,000.

Gainer asked Tranquill why his office couldn’t delay giving the pay changes until after July 1.

“Because these employees are doing the additional work now,” Tranquill said, noting his office has lost several employees to better paying jobs in the private sector recently. “These are specialized jobs, they handle a lot of money,” he said.

Commissioner Blair Couch said commissioners “didn’t want to make cuts in the budget for the elected officials or raise the levy rate.”

“Now we’re in the 60-day period until the end of the year,” Couch said, “we need to make it to that $900,000 number and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to do that.”

“I’m trying to save money in any way I can,” Tranquill said, noting he hasn’t increased his materials/supplies budget. “It has remained the same at $7,000, since 1993,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to keep qualified, trained employees if we can,” Merritt said.

“You also asked us to try and bring up the pay of the lower paid employees,” Tranquill said. “We sent up a letter April 16 and it hasn’t been signed.”

“In the past we have instituted spending freezes near the end of the fiscal year,” Couch said. “You’re not the only ones we didn’t sign off on pay raises.”

“We asked for help with the carryover, and you agreed,” Gainer said.

“Obviously there was a misunderstanding. I applaud you for your efforts to try and bring up the salaries of the lower paid employees, but we have to balance the budget. We do everything we can to try and not raise taxes,” Dunn said.

Tranquill reminded commissioners they are required to “take care of the county officials offices before funding outside agencies. You need to look at that,” he said.

“I agree with that,” Gainer responded.

“We could lose additional employees and the tax department will be hurting at one of the busiest times. It’s difficult to find people. I’m concerned. I have to look at my responsibilities. There is case law on this issue, but I don’t want to take anyone to court, that’s not going to happen while I’m sheriff,” Merritt said.

“This is compensation for additional duties these employees have taken on. Of course I’m going to fight for my employees, they are good people,” Tranquill said.

“The budget was tight back when I was a county commissioner, too, but we had to deal with it. It’s your responsibility,” Merritt said.

“We do not want to raise taxes,” Gainer said.

“But if we have to, we will,” Dunn said.