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As W.Va. session nears, public has plenty of suggestions

January 08, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

SCRABBLE, W.VA. -

Consolidate fire fees, property taxes and other taxes onto one bill.

Bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas.

Have mandatory trash collection.

Fix roads with gaping potholes.

There was no shortage of ideas when the public met with three West Virginia state representatives on Saturday - four days before the 2006 West Virginia Legislature session starts.

It was one of four town meetings planned by Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, an annual pre-session practice of his.

Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and Sen. John Unger II, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, joined Overington at Mt. Wesley United Methodist Church in Scrabble for the second of two meetings on Saturday. About 25 people were in the audience.

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Two more meetings will be held next Saturday.

Bill Fischbach, who suggested the combined billing, said it seems like a waste of money to publish a full list of people who didn't pay their fire fee.

The problem with merging all expenses, Unger said, is that property tax revenue goes to the state, which returns a percentage to the county. All fire fee money, though, can be used for local fire protection, he said.

Carolyn Thomas recommended increasing the state's homestead exemption.

West Virginia currently allows people who are at least 64 years old or have a permanent disability to exempt the first $20,000 of assessed value of their homes when paying property taxes.

"It should be $80,000," Thomas said.

Overington said he prefers making the exemption a percentage, such as 50 percent of the assessed value, and capping it at the average cost of a house.

Kirk Clark and other Eastern Panhandle members of A.B.A.T.E. (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education) spoke in favor of a bill to increase fines for careless driving.

"Danny's Bill" is named after Danny Kneisley, who died in September 2004 after his motorcycle was struck by a man driving a Ford Ranger on Tabler Station Road. The man was fined $20, according to Clark.

If passed, the fine would rise to a minimum of $50 for a first offense and a maximum of $500. The fine would double for subsequent offenses.

The driver would be fined an additional $4,000 if another person was unintentionally killed, and $2,000 if another person was seriously injured.

Clark said A.B.A.T.E. again will lobby this year for the bill, which passed the Senate last year, but not the House.

"It will create a situation where people will become more careful," Unger said.

Unger said he wants the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles to access customers' tax records online to prevent people from being turned away because they didn't bring them.

He said residents can look forward to a new DMV office in Jefferson County this year. The Jefferson County office will be open some Saturdays and the Berkeley County office will be open some evenings, he said.

Overington complimented residents for attending, armed with ideas.

"This is what these town meetings are all about," he said.

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