STEUBENVILLE -Jefferson County commissioners Thursday agreed to provide funding as requested to the county veterans services commission but questioned why salaries increased 33 percent since 2010.
The veterans services commission asked for $537,000 in funds for 2014. State law requires the commissioners to provide money for veterans services amounting up to 0.5 mill of the county's total property valuation, which, in Jefferson County's case, is $603,000.
The commissioners offered $500,000 in funding, which prompted the veterans services commissioner board and director to appear at the meeting asking for the increase.
Veterans services Director Schelley Brooks said the funding is based on need, but the commissioners questioned why money for services to veterans increased from $123,276 in 2010 to $147,500 this year but salaries rose from $261,373 to $347,381 in the same period.
Charles Strizak, veterans services board member, said the board decided to increase salaries to make them more in line with similar-sized counties.
Brooks said veterans services routinely returns unspent money back to the county at the end of the year.
Commissioners Tom Gentile said there are other county departments that can mandate budget amounts but work with the commissioners on the budget.
"Your salary and administrative costs have gone through the roof but services (money) have not gone up correspondingly to salaries," Gentile said.
He said the veterans services board keeps approving salary increases, which includes a 3 percent raise this year.
"It is like a truck running down the road without putting on the brakes," he said.
Veterans services spent $15,000 last year on new furniture when the board moved to its new offices in the Towers, even though the county offered slightly used furniture.
Strizak said the new furniture was needed so veterans could sit facing staff when requesting assistance.
Commissioners agreed to fund the veterans services at $537,000, but noted other departments would have to be cut or not get what they requested for 2014.
County Commissioner David Maple said he believes raises at veterans services were given at the expense of services to veterans.
Bryan Felmet, veterans services board member, said the board made changes in how services are provided. He said the board was providing emergency living expenses on an ongoing basis for certain veterans instead of only providing the funding for a certain period of time.
Felmet said providing the funding on an ongoing basis was similar to welfare. He said veterans services now puts a limit on the number of months of funding.
County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the veterans should get what they are entitled to but said there have been huge increases in salaries.
In other matters, commissioners received a report from Ernie Delatore of McKinley & Associates of Wheeling concerning improvements needed at the Towers on Market Street.
Delatore said the main roof and the mezzanine roof need replaced, windows need to be sealed to prevent leaking water and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, which are originals and 40 years old, need upgrading.
Gentile said the commissioners knew the roofs and heating and cooling systems needed replaced when the commissioners purchased the building last year for $750,000, plus $100,000 for four adjacent parking lots.
Gentile said the building was purchased at $9.70 per square foot, compared to new construction costing $200 per square foot.
Commissioners agreed to allow McKinley & Associates to prepare bid specifications for the improvements to the roof, windows and heating and cooling system. The county will issue a bond to make the improvements and other capital improvement work, including the demolition of the existing courthouse annex.