Surkamp, Phalen square off for Jefferson Commission seat

October 20, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commission candidate Jim Surkamp said Jefferson County is in a "real mess" as the area struggles to serve a growing population. His opponent, Gary Phalen, said he is troubled by the legal battles between government agencies as the county deals with daily issues.

Surkamp, a Democrat, and Phalen, a Republican, will face each other in the Nov. 2 general election in the race for the Shepherdstown, W.Va., seat on the commission.

James G. Knode holds the seat but did not run for re-election.

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

Jim Surkamp

Some county residents have expressed concern that not enough business is being attracted to Jefferson County to help generate new tax revenue to pay for new public services demanded by population growth.


Surkamp said "we're building way too many houses and not enough businesses."

And the county is in a "real mess" as a result, said Surkamp, 55, of 64 Larkspur Lane, Shepherdstown.

The school system often is used as an example of a public service that is struggling with population growth, but Surkamp said the problem is evident in other areas.

From midnight to 7 a.m., often only two police officers are on duty in the county, said Surkamp, who defeated Tom Trumble in the Democratic primary election in May.

"If one's on vacation, it's one (which is on duty)," Surkamp said.

Volunteer fire departments are being stretched to handle emergency calls and in some instances, fire departments have been unable to respond to emergencies, Surkamp said.

"And it will get worse. It's a state of emergency," said Surkamp.

He said the county could not look to the state for any help in dealing with the population growth because the state is financially strapped.

"You might say we have our heels on a cliff edge," he said.

Surkamp favors establishment of a paid fire service in the county, which he estimates will cost between $3 million and $4 million.

Surkamp said the county needs to invest in business that works in Jefferson County, such as the horse racing industry, industrial parks and tourism.

Surkamp, who also wants to set up a local television channel to keep citizens united, has worked in variety of fields including journalism, grief support, documentary production and helping the county set up school impact fees.

Gary Phalen

Phalen, 60, of Shepherdstown, said he knows how county government works.

Phalen was a Jefferson County Commissioner from 1980 to 1986 and was a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission for two years.

Phalen stepped down from the county commission in 1986 to run for a 16th District state senate seat and was defeated.

Phalen was on the county commission when it passed zoning laws.

The action made Jefferson County the first county - and still the only county - in the state to have the land-use regulations.

Phalen has spent the last 18 years in the mortgage banking business. Phalen has worked at banks in Kansas City, Bethesda, Md., Northern Virginia and now Shepherdstown, where he works for American Home Bank.

To relieve the tax burden on homeowners, Phalen said county officials need to work as hard as they can to bring more jobs to the area.

Regarding how growth is controlled, Phalen said he believes the Land Evaluation Site Assessment test is outdated and needs to be abolished. The test, known as LESA, is a point system that is used to determine whether developers should be allowed to build in the county's rural zone.

Phalen said he supports a traditional form of zoning, which involves setting up sectors for different types of growth.

Phalen said he believes it would be best to have an outside firm make a recommendation on a zoning plan for the county. That way, the county would not feel the pressures of "builders and no-growth people."

Phalen said he is troubled by the way county business is operated, which he termed as the trend to "sue everybody for everything." For example, Phalen said it was unfortunate the commissioners sued the City of Charles Town over collection of school impact fees.

If elected, Phalen said one of his priorities will be pushing for progress to expand W.Va. 9 from two lanes to four lanes.

"That's a death trap there and has been for many years," Phalen said.

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