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Morgan County commissioner reflects on first year

February 19, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Brenda J. Hutchinson, the only Democrat serving on the three-member Morgan County Commission, recently completed her first year, which she calls a good learning experience.

"This has been my learning year. I've tried to speak out on the issues I feel strongly about, but I do believe I will improve with time," she said.

Hutchinson can take credit for some accomplishments during her "learning year," and high on the list is the establishment of a county noise ordinance that became effective in May 2007.

Tough on noise

"The noise ordinance was brought back into discussion in early 2007," Hutchinson said.

"(Morgan County resident) Marvin Miller called me shortly after I became commissioner and asked me to bring it back to the table for further discussion. The last time it was discussed was in 2003 and no decision was made," she said.

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The ordinance has been very successful, Hutchinson said. The Morgan County Sheriff's Department is no longer inundated with complaints about noise now that a law has been established and people face being fined, she said.

"It gave us some teeth," said Vince Shambaugh, chief deputy of the department. Less noise complaint calls have come into the department, he said, and no charges have been made regarding a noise complaint, Shambaugh said.

"The presence of the ordinance itself seems to be effective," he said.

New guidelines

The commission established new guidelines for appointing board members in 2007, which was also brought by Hutchinson.

"The new guidelines allow us to look at all the applicants who are interested in serving on the boards. It also allows the public to participate by conducting the interview in public," she said.

"As much as I can, I insist on any discussion by the commission be in front of the public," Hutchinson said. "Our regular commission meeting agenda should be filled, and every discussion should be held during those meetings."

She said the agenda needs to be as informative as possible so the public can understand and participate.

"I also encouraged (Morgan County resident) Barbara Tudor to request the commission to ask the planning commission to study zoning," Hutchinson said.

Tudor made the presentation to the commission last October, but her study request was not approved.

Hutchinson said she made a motion to accept the request, but it was not seconded by either Stotler or Swaim, and it died.

"At least we were trying to bring the topic of zoning into public discussion so people could educate themselves before making a decision," Hutchinson said.

"I think Barbara should feel good about her presentation at the commission meeting. It was well-researched, and it was unfortunate that even a study was denied," she said.

Hutchinson said she has been working with the county Humane Society's spay and neutering program and wanted the commission to help fund the program.

"That's the only way we're going to get a handle on the overpopulation of animals in the county," she said.

Recently, the commission unanimously approved a $5,000 commitment for the trap, neuter and release program for stray and feral cats.

Much more to do

Funding the new Morgan County courthouse is at the top of the priority list, she said.

It is a very large issue, Hutchinson said, "but I'm looking for funding that won't strain the county's existing budget. In other words, I will not support another tax increase for the new courthouse."

Hutchinson said the new regulations approved by the planning commission of no wells and septics allowed in the 100-year flood plain needs to be approved by the Commission.

"The subdivision ordinance changes to protect our water are very important to me," she said. "This is absolutely essential to protect our rivers and streams."

Another important issue is to have good land-use management, she said, "which may or may not include zoning, and until we study it, how will we know?" Hutchinson said.

The disposition of the county-owned War Memorial Hospital property is another area of major concern, she said.

She said she will remain vigilant on the board appointments and reappointments as well as any outstanding issue until it is resolved.

Hutchinson said she no longer works part time as a real estate paralegal. She said being a Morgan County commissioner is a full-time job, and she would like a work space.

"We are running the county government. We need a work area for the commissioners to use," she said.

"I don't believe when anyone runs for this position, they have any idea of the complexity of the issues facing the county. In spite of the serious issues we face, I am enjoying the challenge of my position, and I am looking forward to being an instrument of change within the county," Hutchinson said.

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