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Berkeley County hopes $200,000 will boost business park

July 28, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County leaders Thursday allocated $200,000 in tax revenue generated by coal mined in West Virginia to keep a fledgling 324-acre economic development project south of Martinsburg afloat.

County commissioners Howard L. Strauss, Steven C. Teufel and Ronald K. Collins voted unanimously to allocate coal severance funds for Tabler Station Business Park debt payments, engineering and design costs.

The lack of property sales at the business park off U.S. 11 near Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and Tabler Station Road all but forced Development Authority Executive Director Robert "Bob" T. Crawford to ask the commission for help.

"We expected to be able to move ahead more quickly than we had," Crawford told commissioners Thursday at their regular meeting.

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The sales of two parcels bordering U.S. 11 were abandoned for reasons beyond the authority's control, Crawford said.

One buyer canceled a purchase after he was unable to sell another piece of property in a nearby county, Crawford said.

And "with the economy souring just a bit, he began to get cold feet," he said.

The other prospective investor nixed a purchase because he failed to meet professional qualifications required to operate a certain type of business in West Virginia.

Crawford declined to name the individuals, but said another property sale is expected to close in the coming weeks.

Lacking adequate infrastructure - water and sewer lines and access roads - to fully develop the business park, Crawford had hoped to use money generated by the sale of parcels that border U.S. 11 to stay ahead of debt obligations. Public utility services already are in place along the road.

County leaders have obtained $400,000 in state funding for an access road off U.S. 11, and another $1.2 million for an access route off Tabler Station Road, but both still have yet to be built.

Regardless, Collins and Teufel both questioned the adequacy of financial support from state officials.

"West Virginia's 'open for business,' but good luck getting any help," said Collins, alluding to an economic development marketing theme promoted by Gov. Joe Manchin.

"One hand says we got the money, the other hand says you're not going to get it," Collins later added. "If Berkeley County's attached to (a request for state money), you can forget it, you're not going to get the help."

Teufel also questioned whether the county was getting its fair share of tax revenue in lieu of the county's contribution to state coffers.

"We're not seeing that level of tax dollars coming back," Teufel said.

Strauss was less sharp in his criticism, opting to focus on the renewed strength of the state's coal industry to make the commission's $200,000 allocation possible.

West Virginia coal severance tax collections topped $280 million in 2005, the highest amount in history, according to the West Virginia Coal Association. According to statute, 7 percent of collections are distributed quarterly to the state's 55 county governments and 234 incorporated municipalities.

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