Representatives from every county in West Virginia will convene at Stonewall Resort in Lewis County next week for the annual meeting of the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia.
The main reason for, and benefit from, the conference is that commissioners can meet their counterparts around the state and can find out how other governments are dealing with similar problems, said Vivian Parsons, the executive director of the association.
"They can network with other counties so they're not reinventing the wheel," she said. "Commissioners have more tools in their toolbox to serve those they represent."
This year, the two main topics commissioners will discuss at the conference will be how to control regional jail costs and how county governments will be affected by the Affordable Care Act, Parsons said.
Jail costs are rising for counties - but it's not due to an increase in per diem rates, it's because of rising incarceration numbers, she said. Counties help fund the regional jails, which were built starting in the 1980s as a replacement for individual county jails.
As for the Affordable Care Act, Parsons said many county governments are unsure how the law will affect them in their role as employers. So representatives from the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency and the private sector will be on hand to answer questions.
"We kind of operate as a hub of information," she said.
Also at the conference, the state Auditor's Office will conduct its mandatory annual training for county commissioners and staff. The Auditor's Office training covers a range of topics, from financial and accounting issues to analysis of new state and federal laws that affect counties.
Joe Haynes, a Putnam County Commissioner who has attended the conference every year he has been in office, said being able to meet local government officials outside the immediate region is beneficial for his role as a commissioner. He said other counties in the state have demographics and growth trends similar to Putnam and therefore have common problems.
"One of the main values I've seen in the meetings is networking with other commissioners in other counties," he said. "Sometimes it's really helpful."
Besides the conference and training, the County Commissioners' Association helps represent county governments during the state legislative session and lobbies for or against legislation on behalf of county governments.
However, not everyone always agrees with the association's position, and for that reason, Kanawha County opted to leave the association three years ago, making Kanawha the only county in the state that is not a member of the County Commissioners' Association.