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Apr. 8—FAIRMONT — A drop in revenue from the Coal Severance Tax has forced the Marion County Commission to slash almost $2 million from its 2021-22 fiscal year budget.
The county's Coal Severance Fund went from $1.4 million to $80,000 which County Administrator Chris Cinalli described as a "pretty significant" cut. Consequently, the county commission budget was cut from $16,292,000 last fiscal year to $14,527,083 in the general fund for the coming year.
"However, we were able to do it. We relied on some Financial Stabilization Funds that offset those revenue shortfalls," said Cinalli.
The good news is that some of the revenue shortfalls will be able to be replenished using funds from the American Rescue Act COVID-19 bill Congress recently passed.
"We were still able to provide cost of living increases, slightly less, but still a significant amount," said Cinalli.
Cinalli said levy rates would not increase with the increase of the cost of living raises.
"I think that we've all dreaded the day that we'd have to tap these reserve funds but you all certainly deserve credit for having the foresight to put that money away when times were good," said Cinalli.
Commission President Randy Elliott said the county is spending less and doing more with what money they have without putting the county into debt, even if they had to use the Financial Stabilization Fund to close out the fiscal year.
"We've put money in there for quite a long time with anticipation of something like this happening, and it worked. What we had was sufficient. We didn't raise taxes. We gave our employees raises and we met the obligation of our budget," said Elliott.
Commissioner Ernie VanGilder said one thing helped bring about efficiency was the implementation of different technology that kept the county from having to hire new people.
"We'll be able to do more with less and it also instituted a lot of cross-training programs. I guess the little things all add up," said VanGilder.
The county is slated to receive over $10 million from federal stimulus money. Elliott said the county can fill all the losses of the Financial Stabilization Fund with some of the federal funds.
"We're going to be back to square one again. This COVID issue cost us a lot of money in addition to everything else that's going on, the coal severance tax. We got hit with a double whammy there because we lost revenue," said Elliott.
Going forward, the county plans to have the same measures in place. Elliott said the commission will ask elected officials to look deep into what they really need.
"We're going to look into what we can do as a commission to cut our expenses too," said Elliott.
Though not meant to replace coal, oil and gas can help replace some of the lost coal money. Elliott said a lot of people that work elsewhere live in Marion County.
"They buy their homes here, they buy their gasoline here, they send their kids to school here. They spend their money here," said Elliott.
He said with people spending their money here that creates an additional tax base.
"A combination of a lot of different things is going to be necessary to moving forward down the road," said Elliott.
In other commission news, Belinda Biafore had commissioners sign a resolution to continue the industrial road access to Hog Lick Hollow. Elliott said Hog Lick is a highlight of Marion County.
"A new road up there would help out a lot," said Elliott.
Leisha Elliott, director of the Marion County Convention & Visitors Bureau, handed out brand new visitor guides to commissioners as well as a booklet from the West Virginia Tourism office. Elliott said most of 2020, people were not staying in hotels but said business is picking up a little bit now.
Reach Sarah Marino at 304-367-2549