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City might give $250,000 toward recreation center

September 13, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg City Council is expected to vote Thursday on a recommendation to allocate another $250,000 for expanding the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center after contractors' bids for the project were substantially lower than expected.

The projected cost of adding three wings to the recreation center off Woodbury Avenue was $2 million, but Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation Executive Director Steve Catlett told city leaders the low bid of $1,607,000, submitted by Minghini's General Contracting of Martinsburg, was surprising.

"I never dreamed the bids would be like this," Catlett told Mayor George Karos and five council members convened Tuesday as the Budget and Finance Committee.

The committee unanimously recommended the seven-member council essentially advance Catlett $250,000 in hotel/motel tax revenue that has yet to be collected by the city to at least build two of the wing additions. The tax revenue already is routinely split between parks and recreation and the convention and visitors bureau by the city in accordance with state law.

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City leaders already earmarked $500,000 in similar fashion for the project and now expect the tax revenue collection to replenish the municipality's redevelopment fund account within at least 10 years, if not earlier, according to Finance Director Mark B. Spickler. The Berkeley County Commission also has allocated $500,000 for the project.

Catlett said he expected state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, would "work his tail off" to get another $290,000 from the state to construct the third wing at the same bid price submitted by Minghini's.

Catlett said the contractor agreed to honor the bid price of $53.70 per square foot for an extended period of time in the hope that state money can be found.

Unger praised city leaders for taking a leadership role in moving the project forward and said he was "very optimistic" state money could be identified.

Part of the problem in getting state money for the project has been the lack of a mechanism in place of the Budget Digest, Unger said. The Budget Digest was abandoned earlier this year after a legal challenge and a statewide funding distribution system has yet to be adopted, Unger said.

The new system could be considered in the special session of the Legislature in November to consider modernizing the state's tax structure, Unger said.

"There's no vehicle to get the money, yet," Unger said.

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