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Government cuts funds to Ranson telecenter

September 15, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

RANSON, W.Va. - As far as Cheryl Moxley is concerned, there are many more advantages to the Jefferson County TeleCenter than saving a commute to Rockville, Md.

By working in her hometown, Moxley is able to take care of chores and appointments during breaks, which cuts back on leave time from the agency where she works.

And the telecenter's quiet surroundings on Fairfax Boulevard in Ranson are more conducive to work than the chaotic atmosphere at the National Institutes of Health, where she works at a telecommunications specialist, she said.

"I can get more work done in four hours than I can in nine hours down there," said Moxley, one of 11 workers at the telecenter.

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But it appears that Moxley's days of working at the local center are about over.

The federal government is cutting funding to the 18-month-old center. If other funding cannot be found, it will close at the end of this month, officials said.

The telecommuting center was set up to enable federal government employees to work on computers and avoid making long commutes to Washington, D.C., and other metropolitan areas.

Several other cities in the area also have telecenters, including Hagerstown, Frederick, Md., and Winchester, Va.

Through the program, the federal government's General Services Administration pays the start-up costs for the centers. After about the first two years, it is up to the centers to pay for operation.

The federal government is cutting funding to the local telecenter because it believes not enough people are using it, said Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

But Peters pointed out that the telecenters in other nearby cities were funded by the federal government for up to three years.

"We've expressed our concerns, but I don't know if that will change their decision or not," said Peters.

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., want the center to have another chance, and local officials believe the federal government might be rethinking the decision.

Sharon Roach, who helps run the telecenter program through the General Services Administration, said there has been no change in the plans for the local center. But she added that "nothing is ever final."

Roach referred further questions to Wise's office.

The center, which has 15 computer terminals, received $250,000 from the federal government in its first year. Last year, it received $138,000, said Pete Smith, who runs the center.

Smith said funding for the center is being cut as interest is picking up. He said he has talked to about 25 potential new clients and Shepherd College has been trying to bring handicapped workers there.

"We had all these irons in the fire and they were getting up to working temperature. New ideas take a long time to sell," said Smith.

Like Moxley, Myles Morse said working at the center has saved him leave time that he normally would have used to take care of his parents.

"It seems they're not forward-thinking enough on this," said Morse, who works in the Office of Research and Development at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials initially envisioned that up to 50 federal government employees would work at the center.

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