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No shocker, Berkeley Co. a hot growth spot

March 16, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Berkeley County, W.Va., is one of the fastest growing counties in the country, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, with the county reflecting a nationwide trend that shows populations relocating farther from major metropolitan areas and toward low-density suburbs and rural areas.

The county grew by 4.6 percent, making it the 56th-fastest growing locality in the country.

Still considered relatively small with 93,394 residents in July 2005, Berkeley County's growth rate was more than three times the national average, according to Census data.

That rate of growth brings with it a host of problems that need to be solved, county leaders said.

State lawmaker Walter Duke, whose district includes Berkeley County, said more needs to be done to educate other lawmakers in West Virginia about what problems growth has presented for the region.

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"The issue is we are just overwhelmed by the growth," said Duke, who called for a change in the state's school aid formula. Lawmakers in other parts of the state don't get the fact that a house in Wirt County can be bought for $50,000, but a house on the same size lot in Berkeley County costs $200,000."

Duke said the growth is bringing higher property taxes and insurance costs that are putting the squeeze on county residents.

Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said legislation to address the state's school aid formula will be the most important in a decade.

Arvon said pupil enrollment in the county's schools has grown by about 5 percent annually, with the schools adding more than 700 students each year.

"What that has meant to Berkeley County is we've opened seven new school facilities in the last eight years," Arvon said.

Efforts to keep up with the growth rate has resulted in as many as 13 major school renovation projects, and the addition of 64 portable classrooms. Another 12 are slated to be added next year, he said.

New schools and students have meant new teachers, and the county is set to hire about 200 new teachers this year, after adding almost that many last year.

Arvon said the area's rising cost of living puts burdens on teachers, whose salaries are determined at the state level.

"We have to get out of the philosophy in West Virginia that one size fits all," Arvon said.

Housing construction in Berkeley County shows no sign of ebbing. The planning commission last year approved the construction of 5,754 residential lots on 2,294 acres throughout the county.

Eastern Panhandle Transportation Authority member Jerry Mays said many of the area's growth concerns could be eased by transportation improvements, but he said the region must compete for a small pool of funds.

"Growth areas in West Virginia are in competition with areas in the state that don't have those problems that come about because of growth," Mays said.




Growing up



Other counties around the country experiencing high growth rates (counties are listed by name, state, rank in the nation and percentage of growth since 2004):

Flagler, Fla., 1st, 10.7%

Lyon, Nev., 2nd, 9.6%

Loudon, Va., 8th, 6.8%

King George, Va., 9th, 6.7%

Culpeper, Va., 18th, 5.9%

Douglas, Colo., 41st, 5.0%

Pike, Pa., 72nd, 4.2%

Baldwin, Ala, 100th, 3.8%

Note: No Maryland counties made the top 100.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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