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Officials pony up for Honor Guard van insurance bill

May 16, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A discussion on whether Berkeley County should pay for insurance on a van that belongs to the Veterans Combined Honor Guard ended Thursday with several elected officials taking out their personal checkbooks and pledging money.

With eight people each promising $100 of their own money, Berkeley County Commission President Howard Strauss said he hoped enough is raised through donations for the debate to become moot. He was one of the people who promised money to the group.

Honor Guard members provide military honors at veterans' funerals and other events. Insurance for the group's new van is expected to cost $1,137, said Jim Grose of the Honor Guard.

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The insurance debate arose a few weeks ago, when Honor Guard members approached the County Commissioners and asked that county money be used to pay for the van's insurance and registration.

The commissioners made no promises and expressed concern about what would happen if a drunken driver got behind the wheel of the van. The county would be liable if the van were involved in an accident, Strauss said.

After a few minutes of discussion Thursday, the matter seemed to be over. Strauss commended the work of Honor Guard volunteers and suggested private donations be sought.

"I will personally contribute if a fund is established by this community," Strauss said.

Grose then walked to a podium and addressed the commissioners, responding to the previously voiced concerns about a drunken driver possibility.

Four Honor Guard members do not drink any kind of alcohol, and none smoke marijuana, he said.

"We are an honorable bunch of individual veterans," he said.

With $3,200 in its account, the Honor Guard would be hard pressed to pay for insurance, especially with gas prices as high as they are, he said.

After four funerals, $37 worth of gas was put into the van, he said.

Grose asked who was allowed to make a motion, prompting County Commissioner John Wright to move that the county pay for the van's insurance and registration.

First, Wright resigned from his position as the Honor Guard's chaplain, a post he has held for nearly two years. He said he resigned to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

Commissioner Steve Teufel amended the motion, telling Honor Guard members to approach the commissioners again in July, when additional money could surface.

Strauss objected, saying the commissioners were opening the floodgates for other organizations to seek similar assistance and also were assuming money would be available.

Most likely, any money left over at the end of the budget year will need to be rolled over, Strauss said after the meeting.

"There's not a pot of gold out there. It's wishful thinking that come July there's going to be additional money," he said later.

Despite his dissenting vote, the motion passed 2-1.

Strauss then reiterated his preference that the money be raised by donations.

A man in the audience challenged Strauss, saying he would match him dollar for dollar.

"You're on," Strauss said.

Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, who was at the meeting, got the ball rolling by saying he'd contribute $100. Others followed suit.

Grose left with a couple of checks in his pocket, and promises that the others would be mailed.

Money from donations should be used to pay for maintenance, gas and insurance in future years, Strauss said. A Budget Digest grant from the state Legislature, which was administered through the county, was used to pay for the van.

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