Growth management a key issue in Jefferson Co. Commission race

April 14, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Population growth in Jefferson County is the central issue in the race for the Shepherdstown, W.Va., seat on the Jefferson County Commission.

Democrats Tom Trumble and Jim Surkamp have been highlighting how they want to deal with growth as the two prepare to face each other in the May 11 primary election.

The winner in the countywide race will face Republican Gary Phalen of Shepherdstown in the Nov. 2 general election.

Phalen is unopposed in the primary election.

James G. Knode, who now holds the seat, is not running for re-election.

The commission term is six years and the salary will be $30,800.

Tom Trumble

Trumble said he is concerned about county government raising taxes sharply in coming years to pay for additional services needed because of population growth.


When Trumble talked about his campaign last week, he used an example of a new business to illustrate the type of financial planning that is needed in Jefferson County.

When a business borrows money for a start-up operation, it must demonstrate to the bank how it plans to generate revenue to repay the loan, Trumble said.

The Jefferson County Commission does not have to demonstrate how it plans to generate revenue because the "taxpayers are the bank," he said.

Trumble said he is concerned about availability of affordable housing in the county, and predicts that before long, people will be complaining about rising taxes if management practices are not turned around.

Trumble said he fears taxes will rise in the county because he sees no plan for what type of businesses to attract to the area. Business growth is needed to generate tax revenue to pay for new public services, Trumble said.

He said he advocates attracting "new economy" businesses like computer firms and bio-technology firms.

Trumble said the county also lacks a plan for what type of facilities it will need to serve a growing population. When budget time nears, debate often focuses on whether the county needs a new recreation center or some other facility.

Trumble said he supports a balance between population growth, public services and expansion of green space.

To ensure public services such as schools are not overburdened, Trumble said he thinks the county needs to consider an adequate facilities ordinance, a law that would control growth in order to allow public services to keep up with demand.

Not only does striking a balance between growth and public services make sense on its own, but it is important for other efforts, such as economic development, Trumble has said.

Companies will be less inclined to move to the county if schools are overcrowded and roads are congested, he said.

Trumble, 59, of 2576 Warm Springs Road, Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., was former vice president for science information systems for Quantum Research Corp., a computer assistance firm. He has been involved in a number of local efforts, such as raising money for Jefferson County Schools construction programs and attempts to save the old Jefferson County Jail.

Jim Surkamp

On the campaign trail, Surkamp said he has talked to county residents about the residential growth in store for Jefferson County, a situation he refers to as "McMansion madness."

Surkamp estimated that about 20,000 building lots have been approved for the county.

"It's striking a big nerve in the public I meet," Surkamp said.

Surkamp said he's told residents that the historic and beautiful county they love is being transformed "into a monopoly game board controlled by the greed-driven few."

Surkamp said runaway development must be controlled before Jefferson County becomes "wall-to-wall asphalt (and) traffic gridlock."

One proposal Surkamp has been floating as a way to control development is abolishing the county's Land Evaluation Site Assessment system.

The system, commonly referred to as LESA, was passed as a way to help farmers generate extra income through the sale of their land.

LESA is a scoring process that uses a number of variables, including proximity to schools and public water and sewer availability.

The farther a site is from a school or sewer line, for example, the higher the score and the more difficult it becomes to build there.

To build in the rural zone, developers must score less than 55 on the LESA test.

There has been concern about LESA being able to control residential growth in the agricultural areas, especially in light of new sewage treatment facilities that have been discussed for the county.

Instead of using a system that allows development in the rural zone, Surkamp said he supports a plan that encourages land preservation.

In place of LESA, Surkamp proposes the county commission pass a plan that awards money to farmers who agree to preserve their farmland.

Surkamp proposes that the county's cut of slot machine revenue from Charles Town Races & Slots be increased from 2 percent to 3 percent to generate the money.

"I want to take the farmland off this monopoly game board," Surkamp said.

Surkamp, 55, who lives in Steamboat Run subdivision in Shepherdstown, said he is concerned about efforts to expand sewer in the county, specifically the cost of the work and possibly extending sewer lines over sinkholes. Surkamp said he fears that if sewer lines are extended over sinkholes, which are depressions in the ground, the pipes could rupture and spill sewage into groundwater supplies.

Surkamp, who has worked as an educator, a historian and award-winning television and Web producer, said he favors allowing county residents to continue using septic tank systems rather than being forced to hook up to sewer service when it is extended into new areas.

He also said he supports affordable housing and have a cable television channel dedicated to broadcasts about county issues.

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