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Area legislators attacked broad range of issues

March 11, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - While issues like medical malpractice insurance and all-terrain vehicle regulation dominated the recent session of the state Legislature, local lawmakers say they were also busy attending to details on a broad range of issues affecting the Eastern Panhandle.

Bills were passed that give homebuyers redress if they buy new homes with shoddy workmanship, address the increasing problem of air pollution in the area and allow so called "transferable development rights."

Transferable development rights allow a property owner to sell his or her development rights.

The issue is especially important to Jefferson County farmers who own land in agricultural areas where residential growth is not allowed, officials say.

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Many farmers have complained that land in agricultural areas is not as valuable because residential growth is not allowed in the zone, Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss said Monday night.

To even the playing field for those landowners, developers can purchase development rights from farmers to allow developments that builders plan for growth areas to have higher housing densities, Corliss said.

Transferable development rights would be allowed only in counties with zoning, said Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley. Jefferson County is the only county in the Eastern Panhandle that has zoning.

Under the bill, transferable development rights would only be allowed if voters approved it, said Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson.

Corliss said he believes it is an issue that should be considered in Jefferson County.

* Another bill passed by lawmakers makes it easier for homebuyers to force builders to correct problems with homes that have construction flaws, said Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley.

Under the bill, a builder has so many days to correct a construction flaw in a home once it is reported, Duke said.

If the problem is not corrected, a process goes into effect "so a builder's feet are held to the fire" to correct the problem, Duke said.

* Air pollution has been getting increased attention in the area after officials recently reported that ozone levels in Jefferson and Berkeley counties are above acceptable federal levels.

High ozone levels can be attributed to a number of sources, including heavy traffic, officials say.

One step toward addressing the problem came in a bill that restricts school buses from idling no more than five minutes, Duke said.

Sometimes, buses arriving at schools to pick students up can idle in place for up to 25 minutes, Duke said.

Other bills passed would increase death benefits for families of West Virginia State Police troopers and restore the homestead tax exemption to people who go into nursing homes. Before lawmakers acted on the issue, a person could lose the benefits of the homestead exemption if the homeowner moved into a nursing home, lawmakers said.

There were disappointing moments in the 60-day legislative session, including a failed attempt to provide more funding to help growing school districts offset the cost of increased enrollment, said Manuel.

Jefferson County recently lost $500,000 and Berkeley County recently lost $1 million because a fund for increased enrollment did not have enough money, Manuel said.

Efforts to help the near-bankrupt workers' compensation program failed and it is feared the rates that businesses will have to pay to the fund could increase by up to 50 percent.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, called the situation "tragic" and said he fears it could cause businesses to leave the state.

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