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W.Va. Legislature comes to the Eastern Panhandle for interims

September 08, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Beginning Sunday at noon, area residents will have the opportunity to avoid the 300-plus-mile trip to Charleston, W.Va., to gain a little insight on just how the state Legislature works, if only in the off-season.

In addition to the 60-day regular session that begins each year in January, lawmakers are expected to take part in interim committee meetings, which are held to study issues and potential legislation.

All of the meetings, which will be held Sunday through Tuesday afternoon at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg and other locations in the Eastern Panhandle, are open to the public, and elected officials are hoping area residents attend and participate in the sessions.

"It would be kind of nice if we are able to fill every (meeting) room," state Sen. John Unger said Friday.

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A large attendance also will show lawmakers from across the state how "engaged" area residents are on the issues, said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

Sunday at noon, Berkeley County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield is expected to speak to a state water resources panel regarding resources for land-use management. Two hours later, Berkeley County Assessor Preston B. Gooden is expected to present property tax assessment proposals to another committee related to the homestead exemption, a tax benefit for residents ages 65 and older.

At 3 p.m., a judiciary subcommittee will hear an overview of a study on hours for closing bars and testimony from West Virginia State Police.

"It's government in action, and they've brought Charleston to Martinsburg," Martinsburg Mayor George Karos said.

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, hopes lawmakers from other parts of the state receive an education on the challenges facing the growing region.

"I hope they can see what our cost of competition is here," Tabb said, referring to the region's proximity to Virginia and Maryland.

Unger said he scheduled a bus trip for Monday at 4 p.m. for members of the select committee on infrastructure that he co-chairs to witness the traffic congestion at the intersection of U.S. 11 and W.Va. 51.

State Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, who along with Unger played a key role in bringing the interims to the Eastern Panhandle, said he will hear testimony Monday from area municipal leaders about annexation issues as of a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee.

On Tuesday morning, Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon is scheduled to take lawmakers on a tour of Martinsburg High School and neighboring South Middle School, where students attend classes in portable, trailer-like structures, even after recently completed renovations. Arvon also will make a presentation to lawmakers about school financing

A couple hours later on Tuesday, Tabb will host lawmakers at his farm in Leetown, W.Va., to show some of the pioneering efforts made in agritourism and business by area farmers.

"We've had to be more inventive with less acreage and still make a living in agriculture," Tabb said.

Berkeley County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said he will be on hand Tuesday night at Martinsburg High School for a presentation by state Sen. Brooks McCabe on consolidation of governments.

Teufel said he is open to more county-to-county partnerships, suggesting that Berkeley County's investment in a judicial center could be used to accommodate proceedings from Morgan and Jefferson counties as well.

"Why not consolidate operations of the judicial center," Teufel said. "This is the center of a three-county area."

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