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Rec center gets cash boost from Berkeley Co. Commission

May 12, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County's four-year-old recreation center is bursting at the seams, and more space is needed to accommodate increased enrollment in parks programs, the county's parks director told the Berkeley County Commission Thursday.

Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Steve Catlett said a recent four-week gymnastics session at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center attracted as many as 360 students, a significant increase over last year. Catlett said the gymnastics program frequently must compete for space with youth basketball leagues, which also are increasing in number.

"We're at a critical time in our history where we need facilities for our expansion," Catlett said in support of a request for $500,000 to add a wing to the 16,800-square-foot center at Lambert Park in Martinsburg.

The commission agreed to allocate $250,000 from this year's unencumbered fund balance, which would be added to $500,000 the Martinsburg City Council pledged earlier this year from a recent 3 percent increase in its hotel/motel tax, to begin adding one of three proposed wings to the center.

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By law, half of the $150,000 annual occupancy tax revenue is distributed to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau, while the rest traditionally has been set aside for Parks & Recreation for operating expenses. The parks board is receiving an additional $75,000 to be used for the expansion project as a result of the tax increase.

In voting to loosen its purse strings, the commission agreed to cut the cord to an earlier stipulation that tied their funds to an appropriation of state money, which had been sought before the dissolution by the West Virginia Legislature of the state's budget digest grant this year. The move by lawmakers has eliminated the process by which state funds for the counties are dispensed, said state Sen. John Unger, adding funding for the recreation center never was a certainty.

"The idea that they think there's a million dollars with their name on it, that's just not the case just yet ... the money has never been awarded," said Unger, D-Berkeley, adding he also is busy trying to secure funding for transportation projects in the area. "I'm committed to the (recreation center) project, but I'm equally committed to other projects."

Unger, who indicated funding for the project enjoys support from key state Senate members, said the issue of restoring the mechanism by which funding for statewide projects is allocated has not yet been placed on the agenda of a special session slated for the summer.

"(The governor) won't put anything on the call for a special session unless there's a consensus (among legislators) because he doesn't want a special session dragging on for months," Unger said.

Catlett, who said the parks board also submitted a request for $500,000 from the Windhover Foundation, which was established by Quad/Graphics, said three wings are needed to meet the demands brought on by increased enrollment and attendance to the parks board's sporting and other activities that bring more than 75,000 people annually to the center.

"If we can get one wing, that would help; if we can get two wings, that would be great; and if we can get three wings, that would be tremendous," said Catlett, adding the center originally was designed and acreage was reserved for later expansions. Three new wings would add another 24,000 square feet to the center, Catlett said.

The first wing, which would add another 8,400 square feet to the building, would be used for year-round gymnastics programs, freeing up the gymnasium's second basketball court, Catlett said.

The commissioners said they would consider allocating an additional $250,000 from another fiscal year's budget.

Unger said he hopes to secure funding for the project, but said a greater goal would be to establish a mechanism for legislative money that is based on merit rather than politics. This would ensure Berkeley County better representation for project allocations, he said.

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