WELLSBURG - The West Virginia Auditor's Office has voiced concerns about funding levels for the county clerk's and assessor's offices, but county officials say it's mainly a matter of bookkeeping.
The Brooke County Commission has received a notice of conditional approval of the county's 2013-14 fiscal budget, citing concerns about a 15 percent cut to both the county clerk's and assessor's offices.
Ora Ash, deputy state auditor, noted the two offices are constitutional, meaning counties are required, by state constitution, to maintain them.
Ash said the county must "sufficiently fund constitutional officers at a reasonable and proper level that promotes the efficiency of his or her office."
She asked the commission to explain the reduction for the two offices.
Officials said $427,290 is budgeted for the county clerk's office, compared to $437,067 last year, and $240,678 is budgeted for the county assessor's office, compared to $291,555 from last year.
But County Assessor Tom Oughton and County Clerk Sylvia Benzo said the reductions were made with their cooperation and aren't as severe as one might think.
Oughton said the reduction to his budget has been offset by an increase in the assessor's valuation fund, another line item in the budget. The amount allocated for the fund is $222,943, up from $199,783 last year.
Benzo said the reduction in her office's budget was made in the area of capital outlay, which are funds set aside for equipment or materials. She said she told the commissioners she may have to approach them for funds if an unanticipated expense arises.
Oughton said of the cuts, "It still hurts, but you've got to do what you have to to make a budget whole."
Tim Ennis, commission president, said commissioners will respond to the concerns expressed by the state auditor's office. He said he was surprised to hear from the state but added the commission's decision to cut more than $1 million from its budget likely caused it to receive more scrutiny from state officials.
Citing declining revenue, the commission in March approved a budget of $7.1 million, down from $8.3 million last year.
He and the other commissioners said despite such cuts, residents won't see a significant change in county services.
County officials were asked whether the natural gas industry has affected revenue for the county.
Oughton said though a number of residents have signed leases with natural gas companies, the county doesn't see a direct boost from that because it's claimed as part of their income, which isn't taxed by the county.
Ennis said the county isn't expected to see a significant boost from the natural gas industry until royalties are paid to residents for natural gas drawn from their property, which isn't expected to occur for a few years.