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Shepherdstown to consider annexing West Campus dorms

November 10, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When the Shepherdstown Town Council meets Tuesday night, a major agenda item up for action will be whether the town should annex the 11 student dormitories on Shepherd University's West Campus.

On Monday night, the Shepherdstown Planning Commission, at a public hearing on the issue, gave the council its blessings when six of seven members present voted to recommend the annexation.

Planner Karene Motivans abstained from the vote without comment. She said earlier that annexing modern college dormitories would not fit in with the historic town's master plan.

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer, who represents the town council, along with Councilwoman Lori Robertson, on the planning commission, said earlier Monday the town needs to annex the dorm and its 600-plus students to protect the level of funding the town gets from the county's share of video lottery revenue.

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All five Jefferson County incorporated towns - Charles Town, Ranson, Bolivar, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown - shared the $909,000 the towns received from video lottery revenues from July 1 through Oct. 31. The amount each town gets is based on its population.

Shepherdstown received $130,000. Ranson, the most populous of the five towns, receive $319,000.

The population numbers are based on the 2000 census.

Auxer is worried that Shepherdstown's corporate boundaries limit population growth, a similar situation faced by Bolivar and Harpers Ferry, while Charles Town and Ranson continued to annex through the decade.

Next year, when the 2010 census is completed, Charles Town and Ranson will show population gains and grab larger shares of the video lottery funds.

About a dozen citizens attended the hearing. Five spoke to both sides of the question.

Those opposed worried whether students would be able to change the makeup of the town's governing body through the ballot box. Proponents argued that college students take little interest in local government affairs.

Robertson said she did some research in recent days by speaking to local officials in 20 towns in 18 states that, like Shepherdstown, have colleges or universities. She said she asked officials there if students in their communities voted in local elections or ran for local offices.

She said in all 20 towns only three students ran for office and only one won a seat.

Shepherdstown annexed the university's East Campus some years ago, Auxer said, a move that added 400 students to the town's population.

Since then, only one Shepherd University student, Frank Salzano, ran for and won a seat on the Town Council in 2006. His political career lasted about a year.

Opponents raised issues concerning parking and rules governing how many nonrelated persons can live in a single dwelling. Town ordinances limit the number to three.

Some citizens and planning commission members worried that students could organize an effort through the ballot box to change the town's restrictive parking rules as well as the rental limitations.

"Students could run the town if they chose to vote on parking," said Zenia Kuzma, one of the hearing's more vocal opponents.

Shepherd University President Suzanne Shipley signed a petition on behalf of the school in August requesting the town annex the 13 acres on which the dormitories sit.

According to the petition, the town would have no responsibility for street maintenance or police protection in the annexed areas.

Auxer said earlier that the town uses its video lottery funds mostly for capital improvements and to buy equipment for the water and sewer department. Some of the money goes into the town's regular operating budget when needed, he said.

About $750,000 went into the recently completed $1.4 million streetscape makeover project. More will soon be used to repave the town's streets, he said.

The mayor said the university uses Shepherdstown and what it has to offer - its historic significance, shops and restaurants and small town atmosphere as a recruiting tool for new students.

"They want the town to stay in good shape," he said.

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