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Counties outline legislative wish list for 2003

October 01, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Relief from rising jail costs, concerns about the growth of cities through annexation and insufficient funding for state-mandated programs are among the top issues that officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties want state lawmakers to address when the Legislature convenes in January, officials said Monday.

Of a $13.9 million budget in Berkeley County, about $2 million goes toward the cost of housing inmates at the Eastern Regional Jail west of Martinsburg along W.Va. 9, Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said.

"This is becoming our number one cost," Strauss said.

The commissioners are unhappy that cities do not have to pay the $45 per day fee for each inmate kept at the jail, Strauss said.

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For example, if the Martinsburg Police Department arrests someone, the county pays the jail tab for that person, Strauss said.

Strauss said he wants state lawmakers to require cities to pay the first day of an inmate's stay at the jail. Most inmates only stay in the jail for about three days and many of the offenses are related to drunken driving, Strauss said.

Since changes were made in state annexation laws last year, there has been large expansions of cities in some areas of the state.

In Jefferson County, the city of Ranson has expanded by 2,400 acres and Charles Town has annexed 1,450 acres. Some of the growth has concerned county officials who worry about towns gobbling up all the prime development land in the county and creating confusing situations by having town boundaries extending different ways out into the county.

The annexations came after state lawmakers lifted a requirement that counties could not annex an area unless there were about 100 people per square mile in the area being considered for expansion, officials said.

Strauss said he wants the population density requirement put back into annexation laws. He said he fears Berkeley County could soon face annexation-related problems.

Finally, county officials want state lawmakers to address the long-running problem of the state implementing new requirements for counties but providing little money to implement them.

Del. Vicki Douglas, who is stepping down from her seat this year, held out little hope for the proposals.

Douglas, D-Berkeley, said she feels lawmakers would be hesitant to address the jail cost issue unless county and city representatives try to find some common ground on the issue themselves.

Douglas said it is hard to get the majority of lawmakers concerned about annexation laws when only a few counties in the state are dealing with growth-related issues facing the Eastern Panhandle counties.

Ranson City Manager David Mills defended his town's ability to annex under the new state annexation law.

Many of the areas annexed in Ranson are expected to become favored areas for residential and commercial development.

Mills said it makes sense to have growth in cities, and it helps cities by giving them new revenue sources.

Mills said he can't understand why counties have a problem with it.

"We absolutely need to be able to grow," said Mills, who added that the West Virginia Municipal League, which represents the interest of cities, will likely have its own annexation proposals to present to the Legislature.

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