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Woman pushes expansion of Berkeley commission

September 30, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Hedgesville, W.Va., woman is spearheading a drive to add two more seats to the Berkeley County Commission.

Pat Butts believes the growth boom in the county has forced the commission to spread itself too thin as it tries to address the accompanying increase in demand on government services.

Berkeley County is the fastest growing county in West Virginia and had 70,970 residents in 1998, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"I think you need some help," Butts told the commission at its weekly meeting Thursday.

Butts said she will circulate a petition in the hope of collecting enough signatures to force the county to ask the West Virginia Legislature to consider the proposal. That can happen if 10 percent of the county's 34,000 registered voters sign.

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The idea was met with enthusiastic support by Commissioner John Wright, who said he would be the first to sign the petition.

More commissioners would help reduce the number of county decisions being made by nonelected employees, Wright said.

"I see arrogance by our nonelected officials, and I find the arrogance of the nonelected unacceptable in this county," Wright said.

Wright said he has been frustrated in his attempt to get specific answers for questions he has about renovation plans for Berkeley County offices.

Five commissioners would be able to get the county back on track, Wright said.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart, however, said he thinks the current number of commission slots is just fine.

Of the 55 counties in West Virginia, only Jefferson County has more than three commissioners, Burkhart said.

Kanawha and Cabell counties are both larger than Berkeley County but have not seen the need to enlarge their commissions, Burkhart said.

"I don't think it's necessary, but everybody has the right to their own petition," Burkhart said.

The advantages of a five-member commission outweigh the disadvantages, Jefferson County Commission President Jim Ruland said.

Jefferson County's five-commissioner system is a carryover from 1863, when Virginia's boundaries were redrawn and the county became part of West Virginia, Ruland said.

Having five commissioners would provide the opportunity for more input on issues and would allow the commission "more arms and legs" to cover the various boards and committees that require a commission presence, Ruland said.

The disadvantages are prolonged discussions and more difficulty getting consensus on issues, Ruland said.

"More talking heads means more talking," he said.

Butts said she plans to enlist community supporters in her petition drive and is confident she will gain enough support to send it on to Charleston.

"Mr. Burkhart has the right to his opinion. I have a right to mine," Butts said.

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