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Aquatic center question might be left to Berkeley Co. voters

December 19, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County voters could be asked in a special election to tax themselves to pay for an indoor aquatic center after municipal and county leaders concluded Tuesday that they couldn't afford to finance the estimated $10 million project.

"The reality is the county and the city are strapped," Berkeley County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said in a meeting with members of the Martinsburg City Council, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board, and Teresa McCabe, vice president of marketing and development at WVU Hospitals-East.

Because of shrinking revenue, Collins noted the county had to shelve a few needs of its own and didn't anticipate having the money for them for another two years.

Martinsburg Mayor George Karos said the city needed to finance the construction of a police/fire station west of Interstate 81, among other projects.

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"We're now at a crossroads where we have to do something at the west end of town," said Karos, who attended the session with council members Roger Lewis, Richard Yauger, Max Parkinson and Gregg Wachtel.

McCabe said the hospital and WVU Hospitals-East didn't have money to contribute and in a letter to Parks & Recreation Board executive director Steve Catlett, county schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said the school district had its own set of needs because of the county's population growth.

Exactly when a special election should be held wasn't discussed, but Catlett believes the Parks & Recreation Board's previous attempt to get a levy approved would have passed if it wasn't held in conjunction with a regular election.

A majority of the voters, about 54 percent voted in favor of the levy, but that margin fell short of the needed 60 percent, Catlett said.

Councilman Lewis told Catlett he was supportive of helping Parks & Recreation pay the cost of a special election and urged recreation leaders not to be discouraged by the election's estimated $90,000 price tag.

"I like those odds, if we sell the idea correctly," Lewis said of any effort to sway taxpayers to vote for a Parks & Recreation levy.

An architect's schematic design for a three-pool, indoor facility at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center at Lambert Park in Martinsburg connects with the park's existing outdoor pool.

Envisioned as another addition to the Recreation Center, Catlett said the architect's plan divides the aquatic center from an already planned fitness center with a dressing room/locker area that would serve both facilities. The architect's design for the aquatic center includes an eight-lane, 25-yard competition pool, a 3,600-square-foot physical therapy pool that could hold 50 seniors at one time and a 5,000-square-foot leisure pool.

Catlett and Parks & Recreation Board members said they were confident the facility could be self-sufficient after it was in operation, but likely would need initial financial backing from city and county officials during a start-up period.

In a related matter, state Sen. John R. Unger II announced on Tuesday the allocation of $20,000 in state funds for the purchase of exercise equipment for the Recreation Center. Catlett said in the meeting that state funding for indoor aquatic centers was virtually nonexistent.

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