Kanawha County agencies make annual budget pitch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Commission continued their annual budget negotiations with officials for several outside agencies on Thursday, most of whom got at least some of what they asked for.Representatives from the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission, Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association animal shelter and WVU Extension Service all got promises of at least partial budget increases if the county brings in enough revenue. Kanawha County Commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores will approve the final county budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 next month.Parks officials were the first to make their pitch. Retired state Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett of the Parks and Recreation Commission asked the county to raise its annual contribution to the parks system from $104,750 a month to $115,000 a month.Tackett, who has been on the parks board only a few months, said the parks system has been historically underfunded, and has cut staff from 36 fulltime employees to 19. He said the park needs to hire more people, and can't afford much maintenance."If you don't fix up your place it falls down around you," Tackett said.Carper, Hardy and Shores agree that the park system needs repairs and maintenance, but Carper pointed out the parks system will save $160,000 a year once control of Shawnee Park in Institute is turned over to the city of Dunbar. Dunbar is expected to take over operation of the park next month.Carper offered a one-time budget increase of $125,000 set aside in a capital improvement account for the parks to make repairs and maintain its facilities. The proposal passed by a unanimous vote.Animal shelter director Chelsea Staley then made a plea for money to cover a new computer system at the animal shelter. Roger Wolfe of the animal shelter's governing board had first asked for a $50,000 budget increase, but whittled it back to $25,000 after Carper balked at the expense."How much does it really cost?" Carper asked, raising an eyebrow.
Wolfe and Staley conceded that the actual cost of the hardware and software comes to about $12,000, plus annual computer maintenance costs."Let's talk about that next year," Carper said, before offering $20,000 and free help from the county's IT department.County extension agent John Porter then asked for a $10,000 budget increase, from $50,000 a year to $60,000. He said the increase was needed because West Virginia University was cutting funding for local extension offices.Although not happy that WVU was cutting funding and expecting county taxpayers to pick up the tab, Carper went along with the request. At one time, county funding for the extension office was $120,000 a year.The County Commission slashed funding for the extension service to $10,000 a year several years ago, and has slowly been building the figure back up.Commissioners approved the budget request, but Hardy voted against it.
"No offense, but we have a lot of needs," he said.County officials expect a flat budget, with little or no significant increases in tax revenue. They have asked all county officials to present modest budgets, and will decide later in the year if they can afford to pass out pay raises.Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215. 
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