Two seek GOP win in county commission race

April 13, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Ron Collins and Curtis Keller have come to know many residents of Berkeley County. Collins meets them when they walk through the doors of his insurance company's office, while Keller, now retired, met them when he patrolled the roads as a sheriff's deputy.

Collins, of Inwood, W.Va., and Keller, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., are now hoping to continue that service as a member of the Berkeley County Commission. Both men are Republicans and are seeking office for the first time.

Collins and Keller will face each other in the May 11 primary election with the Republican nomination at stake. No Democrat has filed to run, meaning the winner could run unopposed in the Nov. 2 general election.


County commissioners are elected to six-year terms and make $30,800 a year.

Ron Collins

Ron Collins, 64, feels he can bring a business mind to the commission. He has worked for State Farm for the last 40 years, and will retire at the end of the year.

Collins said he has two priorities: improving the county's police and fire departments and increasing funding for Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation.

The sheriff's department needs to be enhanced with advanced technology, more equipment and more deputies, Collins said. Within three years, the pay scale also should be competitive with that in surrounding areas.

He has developed a plan to make those improvements, but said he did not want to go into details because he is still finalizing it. It will not cost the taxpayers more money, he said.

With help from the state Legislature, Collins said he hopes to increase the hotel/motel tax, which is 3 percent. Half of that tax money goes to Parks & Recreation and half goes to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Washington County, Md., and Winchester, Va., have a 6-percent hotel/motel tax, Collins said. State legislators set the rate.

Zoning, always a hot topic, is an issue that Collins said should be decided by voters. No zoning is in place in Berkeley County.

Collins said he will support placing a zoning ordinance on the ballot after the county Planning Commission finishes its comprehensive land use plan.

Collins said he is focused on services because that's what people moving here want. Taxes here tend to be lower than where newcomers previously lived, making services - such as police protection, fire and rescue service and recreation opportunities - important, he said.

Collins, a lifelong Berkeley County resident, graduated from Musselman High School. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Shepherd College.

Curtis Keller

Keller, 52, plans to work full-time as a county commissioner, saying the county needs people willing to devote 40 or more hours a week to the job.

He said his first goal will be examining the county's revenue sources and finding out how the money is spent. He feels there is waste, but declined to elaborate.

Increasing employees' salaries is important, given the number of employees whose wages are too low, he said. Some of their salaries are comparable to those earned in the 1970s or 1980s, he said.

"We have some good county employees," who are dedicated, Keller said. "The salaries never come along with their dedication."

Keller said he also wants to ensure department heads receive what they need without having to ask, "Mother, may I" for every purchase.

"My goal is, being full-time, I'm going to work with the department heads. I'm not going to micro-manage them," he said.

Keller agreed with Collins that zoning is an issue that should be decided by residents, not by three county commissioners. He, too, supports placing the issue on the ballot.

Keller said another priority is finding a way to handle the county's litter problem.

Except for a few years he spend out of state on his grandparents' farm as a child, Keller has lived in Berkeley County his entire life.

He worked as an officer with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department until August 2000, when he retired after 26 years.

A graduate of Martinsburg High School, Keller has taken numerous college-level courses, he said.

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