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Collins ready for challenge of new role

December 31, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - When Ron Collins' alarm clock doesn't sound this morning and he is officially retired as an insurance agent - after working for more than 40 years in the business - he said he'll probably feel relief tinged with sadness.

Any rest, though, will be short-lived.

Next Tuesday morning, Collins will be sworn in as a Berkeley County commissioner, a job he said he plans to pursue full time. Collins, a Republican, was elected in November to serve a six-year term.

On Thursday afternoon, Collins was cleaning out his office and filling out last-minute paperwork. His duties as a State Farm insurance agent will be turned over to his daughter, Kay Lewis.

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"I'm excited," Collins said of his soon-to-be duties as a commissioner. "I can't wait to get in there."

Not all will be new to Collins, who has been attending the County Commission meetings for months. He started out by sitting in the audience, but lately has been sitting in the front of the room with fellow Commissioners Howard Strauss and Steve Teufel.

"It's given me an education. I can hit the road running," Collins said.

Collins, 65, will replace John Wright, who attended only two commission meetings in 2004.

Goals Collins has for 2005 include making sure all county departments are user-friendly for residents.

"I want things to flow smoothly," he said. "I want to do some streamlining."

Fulfilling a campaign pledge to try to obtain higher salaries for county employees is another goal.

"That's going to be a battle, to do what I want to do," Collins said.

Although implementing higher salaries requires spending taxpayers' money, employees are important, he said.

"That's the best asset you have," he said.

Another campaign platform of Collins' was to try to prompt the state Legislature to increase the amount of hotel-motel taxes a county can charge. Additional revenue from such a tax increase could be funneled to Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation.

Such funding could enable Parks & Recreation officials to have a "second to none" operation here, Collins said.

Other challenges Collins said he could face in the upcoming year include implementing a plan that allows the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department to replace its fleet of cruisers every five years. Collins also wants new houses to be "on the books" more quickly. Otherwise, tax dollars are lost, he said.

Having modern offices and a comprehensive judicial center in buildings that once were part of an outlet shopping center pose an exciting opportunity.

"It's probably going to be a showplace for the state of West Virginia," said Collins, who as a member of the county's Building Commission helped the County Commission purchase the old Blue Ridge Outlet Center buildings and parking lots at the intersection of Raleigh and Stephen streets in Martinsburg.

Born in Inwood, W.Va., where he now lives, Collins has lived in Berkeley County for most of his life. He served for eight years on both active and reserve duty with the Army.

He has worked as an insurance agent for a little more than 40 years.

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