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Jefferson County commissioner has wish list for gambling funds

February 17, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County government has $13 million in the bank, and County Commissioner Jim Surkamp has some ideas about how it should be spent.

Instead of spending it on new county offices as previous county officials have discussed doing, Surkamp said he believes the money - from slot machine revenue at Charles Town Races & Slots - should be spent on farmland protection efforts, new sewer service for the Burr Industrial Park and new park land while such land is still affordable.

In an e-mail he distributed Wednesday, Surkamp suggested that keeping the $13 million in the bank could lead to problems.

"Of great concern is the hazard of parking money in the bank during a dangerous political season in which the rest of the state's elected officials are licking their chops to get more money from video lottery funds. They could easily and effectively misconstrue the fact that so much of our allocation still sits in the bank to mean that Jefferson County doesn't need video lottery money as much as they do," Surkamp said in his e-mail.

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Surkamp said he thinks the money should be used in a way that gives the "most possible positive impact on the daily lives of the most people."

Previous Jefferson County Commission members proposed using most of the $13 million to build a new judicial center, Surkamp said in his e-mail. He said county taxpayers do not seem to be interested in a judicial center, noting that a hearing on the matter was sparsely attended.

"Does a judicial center meet the criteria of having much positive impact? Given the alternatives, I think not," Surkamp said in the e-mail.

Surkamp said he believes $2 million should be set aside to purchase park land. Not only would the public benefit from expanded park land, but the land would be "taken out of the pool of developable land, thus avoiding costs for services to the county and taxpayers."

Surkamp wants $2 million to go toward farmland protection efforts, $2 million to be used for a sewer plant at the Burr Industrial Park and $2 million for an emergency center.

The commissioners have been considering building a new center to house the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, 911 operations and the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Services.

Surkamp said there are businesses that want to move into the Burr Industrial Park but there is not enough sewer capacity to accommodate them.

For every dollar the county puts toward the project, it could get three back in state and federal funds to help pay for the sewer plant, he said.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Surkamp said he found that the $13 million in slot machine revenue was of interest to county residents when he was campaigning for office. He said some people told him they wondered what the money was being saved for.

"It's a tool we really haven't used fully," Surkamp said.

County Commissioner Greg Corliss said he wishes Surkamp had waited until the commissioners started formulating their budget before making the comments. "He's gotten ahead of himself a little too much in this instance," Corliss said.

"It's always too quick for some people," Surkamp responded. "It's been sitting in the bank for years."

Corliss said he wants to use the slot machine revenue for new facilities needed by county government. He said there are security shortfalls in the county's judicial system and "major problems" related to lack of space in county offices.

Commissioner Jane Tabb said past county commission members saved the $13 million for new county offices to protect the county from going into debt to pay for the facilities.

"I love parks as much as anyone else, but I think this is what this money needs to be spent for," Tabb said.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson pointed out that state law requires the commissioners to provide a "suitable courthouse" and "suitable offices of the judge."

County Commissioner Dale Manuel declined to comment on Surkamp's e-mail, but said his priorities in the upcoming budget process include setting aside $1.5 million for land acquisition for parks and recreation programs.

Manuel said he also is supportive of a building program for county offices, judicial offices and possible renovation of the former Jefferson County Jail.

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