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Berkeley Co. could get $30 million in bonds if legislation passes

September 25, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Development projects in Berkeley County could tap into about $30 million in federal economic "recovery zone" bonds if West Virginia lawmakers pass legislation allowing the investment to happen, county commissioners said Thursday.

"We've pushed every button we can push," County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield said Thursday, referring to lobbying efforts with lawmakers and Gov. Joe Manchin's office to pass an enabling bill in special session.

Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the county has received considerable interest -- including three written proposals from the private sector -- for the bond program that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year.

Stephen Christian, executive director of the county's Development Authority, told commissioners there are some "excellent projects" that could take advantage of the additional bond money, which will be lost if not tapped by the end of 2010.

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"I'm a little baffled myself by the delay," Christian said.

West Virginia counties are eligible for a total of $225 million in bonds, but some counties were deemed ineligible based on a federal formula that looked at rising unemployment figures from December 2007 to December 2008, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

At least three counties that were deemed ineligible are represented by some of the most powerful lawmakers in the state legislature, including Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan; Senate Majority Leader H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; and House Finance Committee chairman Harry Keith White, D-McDowell.

Barbour, Calhoun, Fayette, Lewis, Monongalia, Nicholas and Wyoming counties also did not qualify, according to the U.S. Treasury's Web site.

Berkeley County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said Thursday he believed the disparity in bonding eligibility among counties upset lawmakers from counties that didn't receive money and now have greater rates of unemployment.

Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said Thursday the governor was in the "information gathering" stage and had not put enabling legislation on a previous special session call because "there wasn't enough interest in it" at that time.

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