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Manchin talks about issues in Jefferson Co.

August 15, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Gov. Joe Manchin spoke Tuesday in favor of a proposal to allow older residents with limited incomes to defer paying increases in their property taxes during a visit to Jefferson County.

Describing the tax deferment idea as a "reverse mortgage," Manchin said he was sympathetic to the plight of older residents on fixed incomes, and indicated the state's tax department was working on the concept and hoped to circumvent possible challenges.

"We're not going to run people out of their homes," Manchin said after touting Jefferson County's pioneering effort to reduce property losses in floods in a brief ceremony at the Old Charles Town Library.

Manchin's apparent support of the tax deferment concept comes after state Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, proposed the tax relief measure in legislation he introduced.

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Yoder, the only lawmaker on hand for Manchin's visit, said he previously had received a commitment of support through a member of the governor's staff.

"In my opinion, it doesn't go far enough," Yoder said. But the Harpers Ferry, W.Va., attorney said the deferment concept was the only tax relief proposal for residents ages 65 and older that had gained any traction in the Legislature. This year, it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, then died in the chamber's finance committee.

"I think there is a way of (crafting) it to get around the constitutional problems," Yoder said.

Prior to recognizing Jefferson County as the first among the state's 55 counties to participate in the Community Rating System, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initiative, Manchin's presented World War I veteran Frank Buckles with a Distinguished West Virginian award at his home near Kearneysville, W.Va., said Mary Jo Brown, Manchin's regional representative.

In remarks to a small crowd gathered at the library, Manchin said his administration has not been forced to grapple with the devastation caused by flooding like his predecessors, but still is pushing for preventative measures statewide.

"You should be very proud," Manchin told Jefferson County Commissioners assembled for the presentation. "Your staff has done a great job."

The county's participation in the FEMA program since Oct. 1, 2006, triggers a 5 percent reduction for property owners' flood-plain insurance premiums when policies are renewed, said David O. Odegard, FEMA's Region 3 CRS coordinator, which includes West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The communities of Philippi and Buckhannon are the only program participants, Odegard said.

Barbara Miller, director of the county's office of homeland security and emergency management, credited county planning, zoning and engineering staff for helping her complete the application, which she said took four years.

"I'm not kidding, it was this thick," Miller said of CRS instruction manual.

"The true reward is we're making our residents safer," Miller told about 25 people who attended the presentation, including officials from the City of Martinsburg.

In a brief interview after the presentation, Manchin said in the next regular session of the Legislature, he planned to renew efforts to diversify the state's economy and get the state's work force properly trained.

"I want 1,000, 10,000 jobs immediately," Manchin said.

Acknowledging the county's significant commuting population, Manchin said Jefferson County was a "poster child" for the need to improve economic opportunities that provide good living wages.

Upon hearing County Commissioner Dale Manuel cite the need for help with providing Burr Business Park with natural gas service, Manchin said, "Let's get right on it."

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