Commission must find insurance funds

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission will be searching for more money in its budget for insurance coverage for its 68 full-time employees.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said Tuesday the commission worked hard to seek competitive bids for the coverage but the three submitted plans still substantially exceeded the amount budgeted for the upcoming fiscal year “so we’re going to have to sit down and do some homework.”

He said the commissioners will need to find about $100,000 in the budget.

“There is a hole we have to plug, but I think we can do it,” Andreozzi said.

He noted the shortfall didn’t really come as a surprise. The commission budgeted about $958,000 for the coverage, compared to $1.1 million allocated for it last year, he said.

Andreozzi said the cut was made to reflect a drop in revenue and needed so a balanced budget could be submitted to the state.

He said property assessments for the county, used to determine property tax collected, have dropped by $130 million.

About 30 percent of the county’s property tax goes to the county commission’s general fund, with the remainder going to the county’s school district.

County Assessor Tom Oughton estimated property tax for the county commission will drop about $165,000, much of it a result of lost industries, such as Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, or struggling ones with lesser inventory.

Andreozzi said the commissioners will review the budget to see where cuts may be made to accommodate the increased healthcare cost. He said the county’s department heads already have cut their budgets in each of the last three years under the direction of the three commissioners and their predecessors.

Citing declining revenue, the current commission earlier this year approved a $6.6 million budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, compared to $7.1 million last year.

Andreozzi said while the budget is tight at this time, things will improve after the next fiscal year, when the county is expected to see its first distribution from the state’s natural gas severance tax.

“Things are going to get better, but we’re going to have to skimp and scrape for the next couple of years,” he said.

In 2012 the commission adopted a policy requiring all new employees and newly elected officials to contribute 20 percent of their health coverage.

The move was intended to introduce employee contributions without penalizing long-time employees. But it hasn’t had a major impact because budget cuts have resulted in fewer full-time hirings.

In other business, Ruby Greathouse of the county’s economic development authority told the commissioners the Ag Day program held at Brooke Hills Park was a success, despite steady rain on the second day.

Each year the economic development board teams with the Northern Panhandle Resource, Conservation and Development Council, Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service and other groups to present the program to fifth graders from Follansbee and Wellsburg middle schools.

Stations are set up to educate youth about various ways in which agriculture plays a role in their lives and how they can get involved through gardening or future careers.

Greathouse said in addition to such fields as farming and forestry, youth may pursue careers in veterinary medicine, where services for large animals are particularly scare locally.

The commission also approved the hiring of Della Mozingo as a part-time worker at the county’s animal shelter at the recommendation of Donna DeJaro, the shelter’s director.