Putnam commission candidates discuss need for raises
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Putnam County's Democratic candidate for commission believes officials need to find more money for county employee salaries.
The Republican candidate believes leaders need to consider benefits in addition to an employee's pay rate when exploring raises.
Democrat Harlan "Lee" Casto and Republican Andy Skidmore are vying for the commission seat that will be vacated by Gary Tillis. Both Casto and Skidmore met with the Daily Mail editorial board Tuesday to discuss issues in advance of the Nov. 6 general election.
"We have to look at more raises for our employees," Casto said. "I have people on my staff that are making $9 per hour."
Casto, 55, of Bancroft, is the head of the maintenance department for the Putnam County Commission. The county has employed him for the past 33 years.
It is hard to retain employees when they can make more money performing the same duties for another agency, he said.
"If you're going to have good quality men and women working for you, you have to pay them a decent wage," Casto said.
Skidmore also believes Putnam County employees should be making wages similar to employees performing the same tasks in other counties.
However, he said the commissioners should look at the entire compensation package, including benefits, before determining what type of raises to give.
Skidmore, whose background is in finance, opted to run for office because he was interested in the county's budget and fiscal conservancy.
Skidmore, 32, of Poca received both bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration from Marshall University. He served as chief operating officer for Passero Adams Inc., a financial services company, for eight years.
He was recently promoted to the position of vice president of the renamed Passero Financial Group.
Casto did not give a specific dollar amount for the raises he would advocate for county employees. He also did not say how the raises should be distributed.
"We will have to have all three commissioners sit down and take a look at it and see how it can be done," Casto said. "Some tough decisions will have to be made."
The two candidates had similar views about many of the topics discussed during Tuesday's meeting.
Both are lifelong residents of Putnam County and deacons of their respective churches.
Both said they disagreed with the current commission's decision to build a new animal shelter to a tune of about $2.3 million.
The county will provide about $2.1 million of that cost, Skidmore said. The remainder of the money will come through fundraising, he said.
A $2.3 million animal shelter is "not right for the county," Casto said.
"But it's being built," he said. "We have to stand by it now."
Skidmore said, "It is a concern that such a large percentage of the budget is going to the animal shelter."
However, both agreed with the commission's recent decision to increase the county fire fee from $25 to $37.50 a year. Casto went so far as to say the fee would need to be increased again in the future.
"My opinion is there was a need to increase the fire fee," Skidmore said. "But we need to make sure those extra funds coming in are going to the right areas."
Casto, a former volunteer firefighter himself, said he walked the district trying to get the fee passed. Fire departments are struggling to pay bills such as workers compensation premiums and utilities that continue to increase.
"They (fire departments) have to have more funding," Casto said. "You can't bring businesses, jobs and homes to the county if you ain't got fire departments and ambulances."
Many businesses in the county support the increase because fire protection reduces insurance premiums, Skidmore said.
Skidmore threw his hat in the ring to keep a tight rein on the county's budget. The Putnam County Commission has an approximately $18 million budget, he said.
"The regional jail bill takes up a lot of that budget," Skidmore said. "We need to try to circumvent some of that cost."
Promoting the county and creating jobs would be one of Casto's main goals if elected, he said.
"We have to promote our county to create jobs," he said. "We don't want our kids and grandkids leaving to find jobs."
The current election represents the first time both candidates have sought public office. Both ran unopposed in the primary election last spring.