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Bath town residents sound off at forum

October 21, 2004|by TRISH RUDDER/Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Michael Dougherty, a West Virginia University extension agent whose expertise is in financial planning, met Tuesday night with Town of Bath residents.

Dougherty met with town businesses earlier Tuesday.

Eighteen people attended the town meeting, which Dougherty called a "Berkeley Springs Forum." Mayor Susan Webster and council members David Crosby, Dave Hall and Irene Hedrick attended.

Dougherty told the audience that the town meeting was to find ways for the town to direct its resources to make the town more efficient and more effective and find ways to increase revenues. Dougherty said the town needs to balance its operations rather than borrow money every year to operate.

Several residents voiced concerns about the town.

Robert Brown said he bought a house in the town limits about 14 months ago. He resides in town part time, he said.

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He complained that he received a new garbage rate but the last garbage pickup was in April. There was confusion as to whether Brown actually was in the town limits. Town Clerk Margie McCumbee said Brown lived within the town limits. Webster said she thought the former owner was not annexed into the town limits - that he opted not to become part of the town.

Brown said to Webster: "If I'm in the town, why don't you maintain the street?" Webster said Wilkes Street is supposed to be maintained by the state. Before U.S. 522 was built, Wilkes was the state road into Berkeley Springs.

"How long does benign neglect have to go on before something is done?" asked Brown. He said Wilkes Street is a public disgrace.

Councilman Dave Hall gave Brown the telephone number of Department of Highways superintendent John Coleman and suggested he ask Coleman to get the state to repair Wilkes Street.

Webster said the town would at least grade and gravel the parts of the street that are in the worst shape. "The town can do something with the top of the street," she said.

Webster said the town needs more sidewalks but has no money to take care of it. The town puts sidewalks in but they are maintained by the property owner, she said.

Resident Carol McBee said, "That's wrong. I can't afford to maintain the sidewalk." McBee said if the sidewalk needs repaired, it should be fixed by the town. Webster said the town has limited funds because it is so small.

Another resident said newcomers "love the feel of the small town but want the amenities of the big city." Hall said the council needs more town participation from residents. Hall said he has been with the council for 17 years.

Crosby asked if anyone had new revenue ideas. He said the recent garbage rate increases have helped the town's finances.

Crosby said the 1 percent sales tax which becomes available after July 1 will also help. Webster replied the "state is nowhere near ready" for July 1.

McCumbee said there are a lot of exemptions to the sales tax. Dougherty said towns cannot have both the sales tax and the Business and Occupation tax (B&O) and that towns will have to make a decision on which is better for them.

Dougherty said business owners had no revenue ideas and the Chamber members feel they are not welcome here, he said.

Pete Moss, Susan Webster's husband, asked Dougherty what revenue sources were raised by business members. Dougherty said the "revenue question has everyone stymied." Moss said a community cannot operate on town budget of $500,000. Raising the revenue is the only way to go - either with a sales tax or a B&O tax, Moss said.

Dougherty responded that the B&O pushes businesses outside town limits.

Moss said businesses won't move. Dougherty said many towns have vacant storefronts, while the outskirts are growing. Hall said small businesses will move into the empty places.

Dougherty asked town officials if the garbage rates were self-supporting before rates were raised. McCumbee said the garbage rates were not self-supporting "for years." Crosby said the town had a $27,000 deficit.

Dougherty said that "before talking about tax increases, you better have your house in order."

Chamber of Commerce board member and business owner Jeanne Mozier said that 18 people attended the business forum meeting held with Dougherty.

"He definitely heard the level of dissatisfaction the business community has with the town government," she said. Mozier said some of the comments from the businesses were that the town needs a professional manager to run it. The council's role would be to make the decisions and oversee town policies, she said.

Dougherty said business owners own property, do business in town and pay taxes here.

"It is important to get their input," he said.

A final report from Dougherty is due in December.

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