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Panhandle counties lead growth in W.Va.

March 29, 2001|By BOB PARTLOW and DAVE McMILLIONs

Panhandle counties lead growth in W.Va.



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County's population grew by more than 28 percent during the 1990s, by itself accounting for more growth than the entire state.

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Morgan County was the second fastest growing West Virginia county, with a 23.2 percent growth in population between 1990 and 2000.

Jefferson County was sixth with a 17.4 percent population increase, according to unadjusted Census 2000 figures released Wednesday.

In all, West Virginia added only 14,867 people during the decade, Census figures show.

"I am astonished," said Berkeley County Commissioner John Wright of the population spurt.

Berkeley County's population grew from 59,253 people to 75,905 and it moved from the eighth- to the sixth-largest county in the state.

Wright said the increase shows the county needs new tools to deal with the growth. He suggested adding two county commissioner positions to the current three. He also suggested the state should grant counties experiencing growth more authority to handle their own problems.

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"It is almost beyond belief to expect us to be effective with 75,000 people when we have what amounts to a dinosaur county government," he said.

Commission President Howard Strauss called the numbers "phenomenal" and agreed the county needs more help from Charleston.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he has been working on a bill to make high-growth counties "empowerment counties," with greater authority to control their futures.

Not only do more people have more demands, but when they move to West Virginia from out of state, as is often the case with those moving into the Panhandle, their expectations for services are higher, he said.

"It's the quality and the quantity of services" people want improved, he said.

In Jefferson County, the population grew from 35,926 in 1990 to 42,190, ranking it 14th in size compared to 16th 10 years ago.

Jefferson County Commission President James G. Knode and Del. Dale Manuel said they believed the county was growing at a faster rate than figures showed.

"There's always the possibility of a mistake when you count," said Manuel, D-Jefferson.

The new numbers are likely to mean increased representation in the West Virginia Legislature. The Panhandle is now represented by two senators and six delegates.

Jefferson County, which is represented by two delegates in the House of Delegates, is expected to get a portion of another district because of the growth, Manuel said.

How the new district will be drawn is an issue that is expected to be taken up in the Legislature before January, Knode and Manuel said.

Martinsburg grew 6.4 percent, from 14,073 people to 14,972.

"I'm happy with those numbers," said Mayor George Karos. "You don't want to stagnate."

In all, the eight Eastern Panhandle counties added 32,664 people during the decade, while the rest of the state lost 17,797.

In addition to Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan, the other Panhandle counties are Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Morgan and Pendleton.

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