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Bath petition shot down by Morgan Commission

July 18, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Thanks in part to its debt load, it looks like the town of Bath will be around for a while.

After considering two petitions to dissolve the small town of about 700 people, the Morgan County Commission unanimously voted to turn down the requests during a meeting Thursday morning.

One commissioner said the attempt to dissolve the town should serve as a "wake-up call" for people to get more involved in local government.

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Concerned that the town has long struggled to get the money it needs for projects and that some services the town provides are already being performed by other governmental bodies, local resident Tom Hall wanted the town of Bath dissolved.

Hall believed the town should be re-incorporated as the town of Berkeley Springs - the name by which the town is commonly known - and that it should take in a greater geographical area to build a larger tax base for the town.

The commissioners used a two-part test to determine if Bath could be dissolved.

First it had to be determined that Bath is incorporated, which it is, Mayor Susan Webster said.

The second and more challenging test was whether the town had any substantial debt.

Under the state law that allows dissolution of a town, the procedure can be considered only if a town does not have substantial debt, Webster said.

Richard Gay, the town's attorney, said that Bath had a debt of about $2.8 million and the debt is expected to increase by up to $250,000 as the town continues with some water improvement projects.

Any debts a town has must be paid before it can be dissolved, Gay said. He said one problem with the request to dissolve Bath is that none of the proponents have suggested how the town's $2.8 million debt would be paid.

Hall told the commissioners he believed the debt was not the town's responsibility since the town's water system was a separate entity.

Gay argued that the town water system was not a separate entity because revenue bonds that have been used for improvements to the system were issued by the town.

County Commissioner Glen Stotler said it was evident to him that Bath had a substantial debt.

County Commissioner Tommy Swaim said that although he believed the state's town dissolution law was written to shut down old lumber and coal towns and not towns like Bath, he said the situation should serve as a "wake-up call" for citizens to get more involved in local government.

Hall said another reason he believed Bath should be dissolved is because only 13 out of more than 400 registered voters went to the polls in the town's June 10 election. Hall said most of the voters consisted of office holders and their family members.

Hall said after the meeting that he was not surprised at the commissioners' actions. "It was a foregone conclusion," said Hall, adding that he was trying to bring the town out of the "dark ages."

"Obviously it's not going to happen," Hall said.

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