Wirt County Crisis

(03/27/2001)

Dear Editor,

On Friday, March 23 Commissioner Charles Murray and I met with a team of people in Charleston to discuss the financial situation of Wirt County. Cabinet Secretary Michael Garrison, Department of Tax and Revenue organized the meeting at the request of Governor Wise. Those attending included Secretary Garrison; Jerry Knight, Director of Property Tax Division; Joe Martin, Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety; Steven Canterbury, Executive Director of the Regional Jail Authority; Lisa Thornburg and Lavada Williamson from the State Auditor's Office.

The meeting lasted a little over an hour, and we were able to discuss the issues relevant to our problem. Since the Regional Jail in Doddridge County will open in mid-summer forcing the closing of our local jail, Wirt County will lose the revenue collected by keeping Wood County inmates and then must pay the Regional Jail Authority for keeping Wirt County inmates. This leaves our county with a deficit of approximately $200,000.

Our Commission is then faced with the question of how to create a workable, balanced budget for the coming fiscal year. Canterbury stated that he could set up a payment plan with the Regional Jail Authority based upon the amount we could afford to pay. The amount the Commission has budgeted for regional jail costs for the next fiscal year is $17,020. We are estimating our cost to be approximately $127,000. This would leave us with a regional jail debt of $110,000 after only one year. I do not feel comfortable allowing the county to accumulate this debt because eventually the debt must be paid, and it appears it will not be forgiven.

The payment to the regional jail is not the only problem we face. Our budget will not balance even when applying such a small amount to the regional jail. Further cuts will have to be made and that will involve employee cut backs. The budget we are submitting to the State Auditor's office does not allow funding for any employees with the exception of the deputy sheriff. The commission felt that public safety was an issue we cannot avoid.

The budget we are submitting is in theory only. The real truth is that it will not work. The elected officials cannot do their constitutional duties without qualified people in their offices to help them. The whole process of assessments, tax collection, research of records, recording of legal documents, estate settlements, legal disputes and bookkeeping will not be accomplished on a timely basis because the workload will be too great. Consequently, the services the taxpayer in Wirt County receives will be unacceptable.

What can you as a Citizen of Wirt County do? Write or call your Representatives in Charleston. Tell them you deserve the same services as any other taxpayer in the State of West Virginia. Ask for them to create a way for the small county to survive. Join us and others on April 11 as we visit the State Capital to express our needs again.

Commissioners Murray, Lowe, and I have been to Charleston on several occasions this winter to try to find solutions to the problem we face in Wirt County. We will continue to work for an answer to the financial situation of our county, and we ask you to join us in this cause.

Lention Offutt
Wirt County Commissioner