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Overington sponsors area town meetings

January 19, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - If Mike Gooden lets his dog bark and a neighbor complains, he could be forced to pay a fine. Yet people can ride ATVs up and down the road by his house for hours, creating a noise and safety problem, and face no repercussions.

Why? he asked Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, during one of Overington's two town meetings Saturday.

Overington responded that it is up to county officials to implement ordinances that deal with problems like excess noise. Yet County Commissioner Howard Strauss, who attended the meeting, said state officials would need to give the county such authority, since all roads are under state, not county, control.

Problems with ATVs was one of several issues discussed during the meetings. About 30 people attended a morning meeting while around 15 attended an afternoon session.

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Other topics that were discussed included lowering the blood-alcohol level to .08, litter, zoning and high-tech jobs.

Overington has been holding town meetings for 20 years. He said they help keep him connected to his constituents even after he makes the five-hour, 300-mile drive to Charleston, W.Va., where he and other legislators are surrounded by lobbyists with their own agendas.

"I want to make sure I have your views, your concerns, as the top priority," Overington told those at the afternoon meeting.

The meetings also produce results in the Legislature, he said.

Years ago a town meeting attendee asked Overington why jail inmates did nothing but sit around all day. That remark led Overington to formulate a bill that now allows inmates to perform community service work as the end of their sentences nears, he said.

That labor, he said, has saved taxpayers a lot of money.

One of Overington's priorities - lowering the blood-alcohol level - has already cleared its first hurdle. On Friday, two days after legislators convened for their 60-day session, state senators passed the bill by a 32-0 vote. It is expected to reach the House of Delegates this week.

West Virginia is one of five states that has not adopted the lower drunken driving standard. Failure to do so has cost it $2.62 million in lost federal highway funds, according to The Associated Press.

Other topics broached during the meeting included zoning and impact fees.

Given the county's constant growth, implementing zoning and impact fees might need to be considered, Overington said.

"(Growth) puts the quality of life under a lot of pressure," he said.

In 1970, Berkeley County had a population of 36,000. Now the population is 85,000, and it could surpass 100,000 by the end of the decade, he said.

New people stress schools, roads, sewer systems, police departments and fire departments. He noted that Jefferson County is expected to soon begin collecting impact fees to help alleviate the problems with regard to schools. Impact fees are charged to those who apply to build a new home; the fees are then used to help build new schools.

On another topic, one woman at the second meeting, which was held at Faith Christian Academy, spoke for several minutes about what she perceives to be a lack of help for mentally ill children in the state.

The woman, who left the meeting after voicing her opinions, said that while resources are abundant for parents of mentally retarded children, few, if any, exist for those with mentally ill children.

She said such children need to be cared for before they become adults.

"They can either be productive or they're going to be detrimental," she said. "Somebody has to step up to the plate and fight for these kids and get them help."

Overington responded that the issue is beyond his areas of expertise, but told her he might be able to arrange for her to appear before a committee in Charleston. She said she would welcome the opportunity.

In addition to holding town meetings, Overington also hands out a poll every year to his constituents.

This year he has asked for their thoughts on issues such as whether the death penalty should be reinstated for those convicted of first-degree murder, whether school should be held year-round, whether a constitutional amendment should define marriage only as between a man and a woman, whether convicted felons should be forced to provide a DNA sample, and whether people should be prevented from using cell phones while driving.

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