CHARLESTON, W.Va. — County elected leaders from across West Virginia have their fingers crossed the state Legislature and Governor Jim Justice can get on the same page to pass a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2017.
Officials were in Charleston Monday for the West Virginia Association of Counties Annual Conference.
“It could be devastating to counties if there’s a government shutdown,” said Patti Hamilton with the association. “Many of our counties are in PEIA for example. We’re severely impacted if our state is not in good shape.”
Hamilton said counties have had to tighten their budget belts every year.
“It’s almost as if counties are kept from getting out of financial binds or enjoying the financial wealth or prosperity that they may have,” she said.
Some counties are in great shape, others are not due to the downturn in coal, Hamilton said.
“We have counties that have been relatively healthy over the years, such as the southern coalfields, who are now struggling,” she said. “While we have empathy for the state, we do not have the luxury of raising a tax because the Legislature would have to give us the authority to do that.”
Cities in West Virginia have the option to become a Home Rule municipality, but counties do not.
“They’ve added a one percent sales tax, for example here in Charleston. Counties do not have that option,” Hamilton said.
The issue of consolidating counties may discussed further down the road, but Hamilton said she’s not convinced a consolidation would work in West Virginia.
“If a county is doing well, what exactly is their motivation to take on a county that is struggling? It’s a locally driven process. It may happen,” she said. “But I’m not sure it solves anything.”
Thursday marks the half-way point in the Legislature’s 60 day session. House Speaker Tim Armstead said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline” the Republican leadership in the House and Senate would unveil a joint budget by then.
The 2017 legislative session closes April 8.