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Officials studying merger proposal in W.Va.

November 10, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - West Virginia officials are considering proposals to allow local governments to merge, a move that could have financial advantages for governments and help them avoid duplication of operations.

One possibility, which was brought up in a meeting last week in Jefferson County, would be to allow police departments to merge, Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton said.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, and chairman of the Governor's Commission on Governing in the 21st Century, said the proposals would allow counties to merge with other entities, or otherwise overhaul their structures without a constitutional amendment.

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The draft legislation would cover city-municipality consolidation, metro government creation and county consolidation.

After 10 months of study, the commission "has learned that identical services provided by state, county and local governments create an environment of duplication and waste," its report said.

The commission researched the legal issues surrounding government reorganization and met with academic experts and local government leaders.

Among other findings, the commission said many forms of federal aid to local governments are pegged to population, so that if several municipalities consolidated they could qualify for federal funding that would not be available to the individual cities.

To allow for government mergers, the commission has proposed three pieces of legislation for state lawmakers to consider.

Although Hilton said he believes government mergers in the Eastern Panhandle would not get serious consideration soon, he said it's an idea that deserves study.

"I'm not saying any of that would happen. It's something that could be 10 years into the future," Hilton said Tuesday.

The possibility of merging police departments in Jefferson County was mentioned during a Jefferson County Commission meeting last week.

A county resident appeared before the commissioners to complain about speeding on county roads.

County Commissioner Greg Corliss said he thinks having one countywide police department would be easier to manage than having numerous police departments.

In addition to West Virginia State Police and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, the communities of Charles Town, Ranson, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown have their own police departments.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos said he was familiar with the merger proposals, but said Martinsburg officials have not taken a stance on the issue because it is unclear how the proposals will fare in the Legislature.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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