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Bills likely to benefit Panhandle

March 15, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The Eastern Panhandle is expected to benefit from a number of bills passed in the Legislature that deal with all-terrain vehicles, and school and highways funding.

Despite the progress, lawmakers and local officials are complaining about how a number of issues turned out during the session, which ended Saturday at midnight.

In Jefferson County, county officials were closely watching Senate bill 454, which would change county land-use laws.

The bill passed, despite attempts by the Jefferson County delegation to defeat it.

Jefferson County officials are concerned that the bill will speed up development. Some have been wary of how fast development is occurring and are worried that rapid development could overburden public facilities.

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Some lawmakers struggled to describe Senate bill 454 Sunday, saying they were unsure of the details. Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he voted against it partly because it was a "bureaucratic nightmare."

"A lot of legislators say we'll fix it next year, but that's a poor way of running business," said Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss.

Doyle said he did not believe Jefferson County had to worry about the bill because the county's land-use laws may supersede the new provisions.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, listed a number of concerns he had about the session.

Instead of tackling the important issues, it seemed everyone just wanted to "patch things up and limp along," Duke said.

The high points included:

  • A good all-terrain vehicle provision for the Eastern Panhandle, lawmakers said. However, many people are complaining that an ATV bill signed into law last week by Gov. Bob Wise was weak, said Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

    Under the new law, ATVs cannot be driven on roads with center lines or two lanes. They can be driven on unlined roads. Local residents have complained about ATVs being driven on all public roads.

    What many people do not realize is that there is a provision in the new law that allows counties to pass tougher ATV laws, Blair said.

    If a county has a comprehensive plan - which all three Eastern Panhandle counties have - they can pass a law that outlaws ATVs on all roads, Blair said.

    Doyle said the provision makes the otherwise "lousy bill" a good one.

  • Lawmakers passed a bill headed up by Sen. Herb Snyder that allows high-growth counties such as Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan to keep a larger portion of property taxes to use for school construction.

    When a new home is entered in a county's tax books, part of the property tax goes to the county commission, part of it goes to education and other portions may go to levies or bonds, said Snyder, D-Jefferson.

    The part that goes to education goes to Charleston, W.Va., and becomes part of a pot of school aid that is distributed to all 55 counties, Snyder said.

    Under Snyder's proposal, the portion of the property tax that goes to education would be kept by a growth county the first year the new house appears on the tax books, he said.

    Had the bill been in effect this year, Snyder estimates it would have generated an extra $719,631 for Berkeley County Schools and an extra $533,507 for Jefferson County Schools.

  • Lawmakers passed a bill that makes it easier for teachers from other states to come to West Virginia to teach. Currently, teachers from outside the state often have to meet a number of requirements before teaching here, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson/Berkeley.

  • Lawmakers passed legislation that will allow for a special highway authority for the Eastern Panhandle. The idea, pushed by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, would create a method of raising extra money to pay for improvements to major highways in the area such as W.Va. 9, U.S. 11, U.S. 340 and Interstate 81.
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