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Strauss wants to modernize government

December 26, 2000|By BOB PARTLOW

Strauss wants to modernize government



MARTINSBURG, W. Va. _ In ways big and small, incoming Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss wants to bring changes to the county and the government that oversees it.

"We need to bring (county government) into the 20th century and then work to bring it into the 21st century," Strauss said in an interview one week before he takes office. "That's how we have to do things in this county - one century at a time."

He said he will work for a new county judicial and administrative building, new rules on some land use regulations and a new way of doing business at the courthouse.

Republican Strauss was elected in November largely on the issue of zoning - his opponent Butch Pennington favored it while Strauss said he did not.

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But that doesn't mean he opposes changes and Tuesday he unveiled two he will push once in office.

He would modify the agricultural exemption given to the subdivision of land, he said. If someone with 100 acres divides it into 100 one-acre plots, that person must go through the subdivision process and provide services such as roads, water and sewer, he said. But if it's divided into 20 five-acre plots, the person gets an agricultural exemption and doesn't have to provide the services or go through a major process.

"That's because the land is going to stay in agricultural use - in theory," Strauss said. "But it has been abused,"

He said he'd allow the exemption, but would require that the plot of the property must stay agricultural.

The family exemption needs "a major overhaul," Strauss said.

A person with 100 acres can give family members parts of his land without having to go through the subdivision process or provide services. That may not be so bad if the land is given in big chunks, Strauss said. But if it is given in smaller chunks, it can lead to development without services.

He'd allow the exemption but prohibit the property from being sold again for a fixed number of years unless the owner went through the subdivision process.

"I see the biggest problem being the sprawl in Berkeley County, big acreages being gobbled up and put into smaller plots," he said. He pointed to the problems of all the septic tanks used in place of public sewer.

"We've got all these wells in the county that are polluted," he said. "How do you think that happened?"

He also thinks the county needs to look at the fees it charges developers - $250 to process a subdivision request plus $195 per lot.

"That's just peanuts compared to the overall cost of the project," he said. "I think our fees need to be comparable" with nearby counties and states.

Strauss reiterated his desire to set up a citizens advisory committee to look at county buildings and future needs. He said the county administrative building has bad air and other buildings are overcrowded. He wants positive action on the issue this year.

He also wants to sharply curtail the number of "executive session" meetings for which the commissioners meet behind closed doors.

State law allows such meetings under certain circumstances, but Strauss said too many such meetings are being held.

He said he also favors holding one regular weekly county commission meeting a month at night and significantly improving the county's Web page. He also pledged to work to improve recycling in the county.

Strauss said he's set an ambitious agenda and realizes he may not get it all done.

"I'll make the motion for these things I want to get done and maybe it won't get a second," he said. "But there's another election in two years and maybe some of these motions will get resurrected."

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