By Bobby Bordelon
Lieutenant J.R. Byer, Jr., previously the officer in charge of the Alderson Police Department, has been named chief of police while three part-time officer positions have been eliminated due to budget shortfalls, explained Alderson Mayor Travis Copenhaver during the Thursday, Feb. 11, Town Council meeting.
Copenhaver noted that former chief Jeremy Bennett would be able to return to his position after his three year deployment with the National Guard comes to a close.
“Effective today, Lieutenant Byer has been made Chief Byer,” said Copenhaver. “Jeremy Bennett will return to his former position of chief of police upon his return and proper notification. As of today, … Chief Beyer has turned in his acceptance. As such, you have four full-time officers, one part-time.”
This comes as a budget shortfall has impacted the department’s staff.
“Three part time police officers have been let go,” Copenhaver said. “That will affect the numbers for workers comp as well. In an effort to replace them, Rusty has found another full time person that will be paid less.”
Copenhaver noted the town was currently operating in a deficit.
“Our general fund, current balance, is $33,306.66. … Our unpaid bills are $112,430.51,” Copenhaver said. “That’s called a deficit. That’s general fund and operating, that’s not water, that’s not sewer. … As I told employees this week, we’re not afraid things are drastically bad, but you’re not spending money unless it’s an emergency. There is no overtime, and we’re making other measures to cut.”
Copenhaver also cited a $5,000 repair bill from the Alderson Fire Department, an increase of $8,000 in workman’s compensation insurance, and the elimination of holding driver’s licenses until fines or fees have been paid have compounded to make the budget worse.
“The state of West Virginia’s Legislature, in the last session, hurt us bad, to the tune of $37,000,” Copenhaver said. “Fines, fees, and costs make up 13 percent of our general fund. By the auditor, it’s supposed to be a less than substantial portion of the general fund. … Here today we have collected $4,000, year to date. … We are still $30,000 in the hole.”
One legislative push, aided by Governor Jim Justice, could see the elimination of income taxes in West Virginia. This could also affect next year’s budget in Alderson.
“We’ve been tighter, but going into the budget for next year, we’re looking at not having the revenue [from the eliminated fees],” Copenhaver said. “This is the worst budget I’ve ever penciled. In eight years, this is the worst, and it’s only going to get worse. … I don’t know the specifics on cutting the income tax or anything the governor is talking about, but if someone could enlighten me on where the offset revenue is going to come from, please do.”
In other business:
Unaccounted for water loss in the Alderson water system has been reduced to 22 percent. Ongoing work hopes to reduce the percentage further, with Copenhaver estimating 15 percent.
David Altizer, project manager for Thrasher Group, noted the water project is progressing, saying “I believe my last report to you, we were at 60 percent done with design. I’m gonna change that number to 75 percent. We’re coming along pretty well.”