Resident wants Town of Bath to be dissolved, renamed

July 17, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The Town of Bath has been around for so long that its history reaches back to the passage of the Declaration of Independence.

Three of the signers of that 18th-century document were among the original property owners in town and one of the lots where George Washington built a summer home later was designated as the first summer White House, according to town officials.

Bath, generally referred to as Berkeley Springs, is known for its spring water and today is becoming a bustling tourist town.


Despite the past, local resident Tom Hall said he believes the town may have passed its days of usefulness and has called for it to be dissolved and reincorporated as the Town of Berkeley Springs.

The town's former public utilities director and city manager, Hall says:

  • The town of Bath should be dissolved and renamed Berkeley Springs.

  • The town should hold another town election because only 13 voters showed up for the last one on June 10.

  • The town should encompass a larger geographical area in order to increase its tax base.

Hall said it troubles him that the town, which has a population of about 700, has struggled to get money for needed projects. At the same time, some of the services the town does provide already are provided by other governments in the county, he said.

Hall said the pay for being a Town Council member is so low - $300 per year - that hardly anyone runs for office.

During the town's election on June 10, 13 people out of more than 400 registered voters went to the polls, Hall said in a petition to the Morgan County Commission. In that election, Mayor Susan Webster, Recorder John Kiley and three council members retained their seats.

Hall said most of the voters consisted of the office holders and their family members.

"Our community deserves better," Hall said.

In fact, Hall said he is so concerned about the town that he thinks it should be dissolved.

Relying on a little-used state law, Hall submitted a petition to the Morgan County Commission on July 1 requesting that the commissioners "promptly start the process of the dissolution of the Town of Bath and start the immediate reincorporating process of a town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia."

The commissioners are expected to consider the request during their regular meeting this morning.

Hall's proposal is two-fold: First, he wants the commissioners to order a new election for the town within 45 days. Second, if that is not possible, he wants the town dissolved.

His is one of two petitions requesting that the town be dissolved.

Another petition containing the signatures of about 21 people also was presented to the commissioners.

It was not clear whether that petition would be dealt with today.

Hall, who works for the City of Martinsburg's water plant, said not enough is being done to annex growth areas into the town so its tax base can be increased.

The town has debt for water projects of about $2.5 million, owes about $133,000 for property it owns where the town hall offices are located and owes $56,000 for a new garbage truck, Webster said.

Hall said he wants the town of Bath to be named Berkeley Springs and he wants the new town to take in a larger geographical area, Commissioner Bob Ford said.

Webster said she cannot believe such a move is under way, especially given all the work the town does for the community.

"What a weird thing," Webster said.

The Town of Bath was incorporated by the Virginia Assembly in 1776. As time went on, it was learned that a town in Virginia also was named Bath, Webster said. Regardless of the duplication, the name of the local town never was changed, Webster said.

However, the post office that later was set up in the area was named Berkeley Springs, the name usually used for the town today.

Webster said she does not believe Bath can be dissolved, especially considering the integral part it plays in supporting the town's business and tourist trade and serving area residents.

The town runs a water department that serves about 4,000 customers, and the town recently installed a new filtration system for the water service, Webster said.

The town has a police department with two full-time and four part-time employees. Webster said the department is needed to control increasing traffic and drug problems in town. The town has passed laws to address issues, including a law that prohibits skateboarding on town sidewalks, Webster said.

That law was particularly important in terms of protecting the town's tourist trade, Webster said.

Now the town is working to set up a skateboard park for youths, Webster said.

She said the Town Council has considered annexing additional areas, but town officials were concerned about the cost of providing services to the new population.

Hall said that under his plan, all of the town's operations would remain intact and if a new town were incorporated they could be transferred to that entity.

But Webster said she wasn't sure it would work that way.

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