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County’s $37.7M budget for 2021 includes levy decrease for third straight year

MORGANTOWN — For the third year running, the Monongalia County Commission will lower its levy rate, pending state approval.

The commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to move ahead with a $37.7 million 2021 spending plan based on a levy rate of 11.5 cents on every $100 of assessed property value. This is down from 11.75 in the current fiscal year and 11.88 in the 2018-’19 cycle.

While the Class I property designation formerly used for farmland and agricultural property was phased out, it still represents the base rate. Based on the proposed rate, Class II property will be taxed 23 cents on every $100. That doubles to 46 cents on every $100 of Class III and IV properties.

Class II property is owner-occupied. The Class III and IV designations pertain to rental properties located in a municipality (III) or the county (IV).

County Administrator Rennetta McClure leads the budget process along with Commissioner Sean Sikora, who called the plan “fiscally responsible, sound, conservative and forward-looking.”

“I’m very proud of this budget. I think we covered everything we want to cover,” Sikora said. “We were able to provide all our offices with virtually everything they asked for, while on average decreasing accounts by about 3.39%.”

He went on to explain that the county has been able to bring levy rates down by trimming the various office budgets, which have traditionally been bloated by 10-20%, he said.

“So instead of saying ‘What can we get in and how are we going to spend it,’ we’ve taken the approach where we look at what we need and then looked at where the revenue would be,” Sikora said.

As the county’s revenue is primarily generated through property taxes and not business and occupation taxes, Sikora said the county’s primary concern over the COVID-19 shutdowns is how it will impact taxpayers’ ability to pay.

“We may have to make adjustments to that to allow people to pay later. We don’t know,” Sikora said. “We’re concerned. We looked at it, but we just won’t know until this develops further.”

According to McClure, the county increased its health and sanitation line item by nearly $500,000, to $1.48 million for contingencies tied to COVID-19.

Overall, the plan keeps the county at the maximum allowable contingency fund, $3.7 million, equaling 10% of the overall budget.

The contingency plan is part of the $9 million the county anticipates carrying into fiscal year 2021. Carryover also includes funds budgeted for uncompleted capital projects, any general county expenses that won’t be realized and any additional revenue.