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Commissioners to consider recreation levy

January 16, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

If every homeowner in Berkeley County bought one or two fewer sodas every couple of months and instead gave the money, in the form of a levy, to Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation, numerous improvements could be made to the county's parks and recreation facilities.

That was the pitch Parks & Recreation officials made to the Berkeley County Commission Thursday morning, when they asked for permission to place the levy on the ballot for the May 11 primary election.

The commissioners agreed to the idea but said they want more specifics on exactly how taxpayers' money will be used. They plan to revisit the issue in the next few weeks and take a final vote, said Commission President Steve Teufel.

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Overall, the levy is expected to bring in $300,000 to $330,000 a year. Levies can run for up to five years.

Should the levy be placed on the ballot and approved by voters, owners of a home worth $100,000 would pay $6 a year. The owners of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $12 a year, Parks & Recreation Director Steve Catlett said.

In an interview after the meeting, Catlett said plans for the money could include adding more soccer fields to the county's soccer complex and making improvements to Poor House Farm, a park.

Currently, three regulation-size soccer fields are in place at the complex in Falling Waters, W.Va., but acreage exists for six, he said. Adding outdoor lights, which would allow for night games, also is a possibility.

At Poor House Farm, possibilities include building an outdoor basketball complex, adding more pavilions, continuing with restoration of a historic barn and adding an amphitheater.

Building a softball field complex somewhere in the county also is a possibility, Catlett said.

No new indoor facilities are in the works, but Catlett said an addition could be built onto the Berkeley 2000 facility.

Levy money also would be used for operating expenditures - a notion about which the county commissioners expressed concern.

Teufel and Commissioner Howard Strauss said they believe voters would approve the levy if they can see its results.

Using levy money for operating purposes is unwise, the commissioners said, especially if Parks & Recreation comes to depend on that money and later finds itself in a bind should the levy renewal fail in the future.

Catlett responded that it's useless to build new facilities and expand additional ones if they are not properly maintained. He said it would be better to build half a million dollars worth of facilities and properly maintain them than build $1 million worth and not keep up with maintenance.

Levy money would be used only to pay for part-time maintenance work, not to hire full-time people who might be laid off should the levy not gain voters' approval in the future. The department also would use the money to buy necessary equipment like mowers, officials said.

All of the money currently allocated by the city of Martinsburg, the county commissioners and the Board of Education - $332,000 - is used for employee salaries and benefits.

Additional expenses must be paid with money that Parks & Recreation makes, including fees charged to use the agency's miniature golf course and to swim in one of its two pools. Money also is raised from the Haunted Trail at Halloween and through other programs.

Because of the additional income, Parks & Rec has a budget of $1.3 million, Catlett said.

It's money well spent, especially since green space is disappearing, Catlett said.

"What better investment can you make in your community, to quality of life, than recreation?" he said.

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