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Martinsburg improvements 'a team effort,' mayor says

July 18, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Efforts to extend Raleigh Street in downtown Martinsburg north to U.S. 11 at Edwin Miller Boulevard date to the earliest of George Karos' 35 years in city government. And the project continues today.

"I told (City Manager Mark Baldwin) when I first became mayor (in 2000) ... if we don't do nothing else in the four years I'm elected, I need to get this off the burner," Karos said in an interview.

Now in his 10th year as mayor, Karos, 77, hopes construction finally will start on the 1.2-mile project, which is projected to cost $37.7 million.

"We've been told that hopefully by the end of October or beginning of November or first of the year (2010), they'll start turning dirt in the vicinity of the U.S. Coast Guard (Maritime Center) and we'll go all the way to Rock Cliff Drive and Tavern Road," Karos said.

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When completed, Karos anticipates the road will improve traffic flow, emergency response to City Hospital, Interstate 81 and other areas of town.

While the Raleigh Street project looms large on the city's agenda and is expected to spur development, Karos said the growth of additional tax base in more than 800 acres annexed into Martinsburg since 2000 also is a priority.

The U.S. Census Bureau released estimates this month indicating the city's population increased by 4 percent from 2007 to 2008. With 17,020 residents, it was West Virginia's fastest growing city among municipalities with a population of greater than 10,000.

With the next census coming next year and the city's population and increased size, Karos said the city's wards will be redrawn for the first time since 1990, when a relatively minor adjustment was made to the political boundaries. Five of the seven city council members are elected by residents of each ward and two council members are elected at large.

Along with the Raleigh Street project, the city's priority projects in the coming 2009-10 fiscal year are:

o Gateway and way-finding signage -- Construction documents were completed in March and the project is ready to bid. Work is expected to begin this summer.

o City Hall/Martinsburg Police Department expansion -- Final design is expected to be completed in 2009, but the availability of funding to compete the project still is being assessed.

o West side police and fire/EMS building -- Final design is scheduled to be completed in 2009, but funding still needs to be determined.

o Storm sewer project -- Estimated to cost $750,000, engineering of the project in the South Raleigh Street area is under way.

o Decorative lighting for East John Street -- To be completed this summer, the project is being funded with a $149,600 transportation enhancement grant and $37,400 in matching money from the city.

o Town square -- Obtaining engineering services for an enhancement project is scheduled to begin this year, with a $300,000 transportation enhancement grant obtained for the project.

Karos, who served 25 years on the Martinsburg City Council, admits he sometimes gets a little impatient because government works so slow on projects he has enjoyed seeing get done over the year.

"But being where I am, I can see why it works slow," Karos said. "You want to be absolutely sure that all the t's are crossed and i's are dotted before you go out and solicit any funds or solicit the support of city council."

"I think we are doing a good job, I don't say I'm doing (a good job) ... Without the people around me ... It's a team effort, it's what it is ..." said Karos, highlighting the "fantastic job" by Community Development Director Pat McMillan and close working relationship he has with City Manager Mark Baldwin.

"Maybe that's why I enjoy doing it like I have been, and hopefully will continue," Karos said.

With that being said, Karos said it was too early for him to comment about whether he run for another four-year term in 2012.

"Anything can happen in three years," Karos said.

Reflecting on his first two terms, Karos said the city has worked hard to unite efforts to improve Martinsburg's economic climate and revitalize the downtown historic business district.

"I think we tried to put everybody under one umbrella and said, 'Look, we're all trying to do the same thing for the downtown area,'" said Karos, who owns and operates Patterson's Drug Store on South Queen Street. "Council has supported it 100 percent since I became mayor. It's not because I have a downtown store, but they know that the ability and the strength of any city is its downtown."

Karos also noted improved relations with Berkeley County government and credited its willingness to support reallocating money for the Raleigh Street project.

"There's harmony. We're all striving for the same thing," Karos said of the city's relationships with the Berkeley County Commission and business and regional planning groups. "You have to keep the doors of communication open."

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