Boyle magistrates looking at all departmental costs

September 08, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Magistrates have begun to examine each county department for solutions to budget woes. The ambulance service took one of the biggest parcels of general fund money last year, more than $500,000.

Other departments also had unusual years, and general inflation has contributed to the county's money problems.

In 1994, the ambulance service replaced volunteer rescue squads, and the biggest cost is the salaries of trained emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Judge-executive Tony Wilder has said that he doesn't regret the county's decision to fund the ambulance service because he knows that it has saved lives.

Trained EMTs and paramedics are in high demand and are being recruited by municipalities all over the state.

In an attempt to remain competitive, magistrates raised salaries this year. An EMT's starting salary is now $21,000 a year, and a paramedic makes $28,500. These employees also earn overtime. Just the salary increases and raises for existing employees in the department cost the county more than $80,000 last year.


A total of $770,000 was spent on emergency medical services salaries. Fringe benefits cost $336,400. A large portion of that is hazardous duty retirement. The benefit is given to employees because of the risk involved in their job. The only revenue to this department is from payment for services. The county has contracted with a billing service in West Virginia. The service collected $898,000, twice the amount collected when the county did the billing. The county paid that service $83,556 in commission.

When the county did its own collection, it cost $45,000 a year to run its billing department, and it collected half as much as the company.

The cost to run other departments has steadily increased, too.

County garbage cost $525,000

The price tag to haul off county residents' garbage was $525,000. The bulk of that was for equipment, staff salaries and landfill fees. Residents could reduce that cost, Solid Waste Coordinator Donna Fechter has long said, by recycling more.

The bill to get rid of county garbage is nearly all the property tax collected. It pulls in $696,000 in taxes, and it costs $525,000 to get rid of the trash.

Another area that hit the county hard was also an anomaly, the sheriff's department.

It had a $315,568 loss last fiscal year, $196,000 more of a loss than in 2002-2003. To look just at the losses this year would present a skewed picture, said Mary Lynn, county treasurer.

The department had a hard year financially because it paid a $70,000 settlement to former employees who complained that they weren't paid time-and-a-half for overtime. Now, as part of that settlement, the county has started to pay proper overtime, and that has cost more.

It has also added another deputy in an attempt to reduce the overtime necessary. Lynn expects that this fiscal year the department's budget will be more aligned with years past.

Wilder will likely propose an increase in the payroll tax or harsh cuts in county services by the new year. Don't look for department cuts to make a difference, Wilder has warned magistrates.

He said he believes that if he went through the budget line-by-line with a microscope he might be able to cut $20,000. That falls well short of what is needed to fix the county's problem.

Bad situation made worse with reduction in state transportation funds

To make a bad situation worse, the state has shrunk transportation funds.

The county will do only one major road project this year, widening and paving Buster Pike, but it has other roads and bridges that need work. Wilder expressed concern about the county's ability to do road work next year.

The cost of medical insurance for employees is on the rise. Boyle is self-insured, and in 2004 it has paid $55,000 more in claims than it took in from premiums.

Employees on the single plan receive $5 prescriptions, $25 co-pay for emergency room visits, $15 co-pay at the doctor's offices and have a $100 deductible.

Magistrates started to review the insurance plan, a self-described rich plan, Thursday. Employees will bare more of the cost.

Wilder said that he has heard complaints from the public about how the county spent too much of its surplus on Millennium Park. He defends the decision to put $2.4 million in the park, noting that at the time the surplus would easily handle the expense and that the cost would have been much more, perhaps double, if the money had been borrowed. When other budget issues developed, Wilder said, the county curtailed its investment in the park.

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