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Panhandle's county commissioners discuss annexation

December 03, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Annexation - specifically a type of annexation commonly called "shoestring" or "pipestem" - was the main topic of discussion Thursday between legislators and Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan county commissioners.

Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commissioners' Association of West Virginia, led the two-hour meeting, held Thursday afternoon at the Charles Town Library.

Parsons told the 25 people in attendance that she hopes a bill will be passed in next year's legislative session that permits revisions to one of the ways a city or town can annex land into its borders.

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The bill, however, will not address annexation done using a "shoestring" method, she said.

Using a "shoestring" annexation method, a city can follow a road and pick and choose which properties along the road will be incorporated into the city's limits. A city could annex one lot five miles down a road and ignore all of the lots preceding it.

Parsons said the County Commissioners' Association, which lobbies on behalf of the state's 55 county commissions, supported a bill introduced in the last legislative session that would have made changes to one method of annexation.

Gov. Bob Wise, however, vetoed the bill. Parsons said she hopes the bill will receive support from Gov.-elect Joe Manchin.

Under the bill, a public hearing would be required before city officials could approve a petition requesting that land be annexed into the municipality's borders. Currently, no public hearing is required.

Also, if a hotel or motel was within the annexed area, hotel/motel taxes would slowly be phased out of the county's coffers and into the city's, she said.

An amendment added to the vetoed bill required that all landowners within the area of proposed annexation support the change, rather than a simple majority.

Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss said that in his county "shoestring" annexation has caused islands of county land to be surrounded by annexed city parcels.

Jane Tabb, also a Jefferson County commissioner, said the easiest solution to the dilemma is to redefine the word "contiguous." For annexation purposes, contiguous parcels are defined as any lots that are connected by a road, river or by other means - rather than lots that are side by side.

Should legislators support the bill again and should it be signed by Manchin, the bill will not solve all annexation-related problems, but is a block on which to build, Parsons said.

Parsons also discussed a fund created earlier this month to help counties replace their punch-card or lever voting machines with electronic voting machines.

Of $16.5 million received in federal funding, $8.5 million will be used to make sure each county in West Virginia has an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved electronic voting machine.

The remaining $8 million will be placed in a fund, from which counties can borrow half of what is needed to buy electronic voting machines. More than half can be borrowed if a county shows a hardship, Parsons said.

Also discussed was a report titled "Governor's Commission on Governing in the 21st Century," which details how two or more counties, a city and a county, or two or more cities can consolidate into one governing entity.

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