By C.V. Moore
Nearly all budget increases in this year’s general fund budget for Fayette County can be traced to drug addiction and drug-related crime, officials say.
County commissioners approved the new budget Friday, which increases by 5 percent to a total of $9,927,799.
“We have to make known the tremendous cost to Fayette County of the drug issue,” said Commission President Matthew Wender.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that a county the size of Fayette spends as much as we do on the drug issue. I think about how many good things we could be doing for the citizens of Fayette County if it wasn’t for the cost of this incurable problem.”
Three new positions will be created at the county level — new assistant prosecutor, a secretary for that prosecutor and a new secretary for the Sheriff’s Department.
Officials say the need for these positions — with salaries totaling $164,300 — is driven by the increase in the criminal caseload related to drugs.
Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris has said on many occasions that at least 95 percent of the criminal cases that come through his office can be traced back to illegal drugs.
The regional jail bill will also increase by $200,000 to $1 million, though Wender says he also expects this year’s jail bill to exceed the current budgeted amount.
Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler said in his department, longevity pay for deputies and an increase in overtime, uniform allowances and supplies account for a $25,181 jump in the budget.
Though the law enforcement and criminal prosecution agencies received a boost, there are no budget increases this year for treatment or prevention programs.
A net increase in benefits and additional overtime at the County Clerk’s office accounts for the remaining $40,463 in budget increases this year.
The general fund budget did not include any significant cuts.
The coal severance side of the budget will increase by 1 percent over last year, though coal severance revenues have decreased by 14 percent. A carry-over balance from last year allows the fund to stay fairly steady.
Coal severance line items — which are paid for by a portion of statewide coal severance tax revenues and must be used for “public purposes” — total $892,939 this year.
Significant increases include $10,000 for a new farmer’s market in Oak Hill, a $27,000 budget overrun for a new animal shelter, $3,000 in other non-operating expenses, a $41,000 match for the Meadow River Rail Trail grant and $16,500 for Citizens Conservation Corps volunteer projects in coordination with the Boy Scouts of America.
The fire ($1,753,040), law enforcement ($1,171,922) and library ($518,164) levies this year total $3.4 million.
The budget approved on Friday is not final. It will be sent to the state auditor for review and potential adjustments. The county will lay its levy in April.
In other county commission business, Shawn Wolford was welcomed as the new Emergency Management Agency director for Fayette County.
He will occupy a reinstated position that heads up three county departments: fire, emergency services and 911. Wolford previously served as the chief of Rainelle Volunteer Fire Department.
“What I liked most (about your resume) is it says, ‘I see both the 911 Center and the combined emergency services recognized as the best that West Virginia has to offer,” said Wender. “We appreciate hearing that and we want to support you in that endeavor in any way we can.”
Dr. George Becker and Carolyn Milam-Becker, residents of Winona, notified the commission of an “emergency situation” with the Winona pool hall, which has crumbled and fallen in, partly in the roadway.
The old pool hall is on the county’s list of dilapidated structures to tear down, but “chasing down” the owner of the building has been difficult, said officials. The commission will notify the Division of Highways that the building has collapsed onto public property and ask that it be removed from the road and right of way.
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