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5-commissioner plans appears to be on hold in Berkeley Co.

March 05, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - He used it as an election platform in the fall of 2002 and, on Thursday morning, Berkeley County Commission President Steve Teufel was asked about the status of adding two more commissioners to the board.

Petitions to have five, rather than three, county commissioners were circulated at the Berkeley County Youth Fair last summer and are still in place in some areas.

At the County Commission meeting Thursday morning, Mamie Lindo asked what has happened to the petitions since the fair.

More than 4,400 signatures, or 10 percent of the number of registered voters in the county, are needed. So far, between 1,200 to 1,500 signatures have been obtained, Teufel said.

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As an elected official Teufel said he cannot spearhead the effort, but said that he favors the idea of having five commissioners. He said nobody has stepped forward to handle the petitions.

Lindo then asked what would happen should someone successfully obtain the number of necessary signatures.

Teufel responded that the signatures would be verified and then sent to state legislators, who would need to decide whether to approve the idea. He described that step as "friendly."

More than a year ago, when the issue came up at a commission meeting in January 2003, county attorney Norwood Bentley said that after gaining approval from the Legislature, the idea would have to be placed on the county's ballot.

A simple majority would enable the idea to go into effect, Bentley said at that time.

Lindo asked if taxes would have to be raised to pay for the two additional salaries.

Commissioner Howard Strauss said either budgets would have to be reduced or taxes would have to be increased.

No time frame exists, but Teufel said proponents of having five commissioners should not linger too long in collecting signatures. If they wait too long, people who signed a petition may either have died or moved outside of the county, making their signatures invalid.

Ron Collins, one of two men seeking a seat on the commission, spoke up at the end of the discussion. He said he hopes people will hold off on seeking signatures until after November, when a new commissioner will be elected and begin attending all of the meetings.

Strauss said it has been a while since three commissioners have consistently attended meetings. Former Commissioner Robert Burkhart missed several meetings, including his last, because of health problems and current Commissioner John Wright has not attended a meeting for months, following heart surgery.

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