SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — The biggest and most expensive issue facing the Eastern Panhandle will be the region’s role in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, a state senator told those gathered at a legislative forum Wednesday.
New federal Environmental Protection Agency rules could cost area counties from $180 million to $240 million in wastewater plant upgrades, state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, told about 65 Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce members and guests attending the event at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.
The City of Martinsburg is facing a $45 million upgrade of its sewer plant to meet the new federal limits on phosphate and nitrogen levels that end up in the bay, Snyder said.
“They’re dead serious about these limits,” he said, adding that it would be catastrophic for ratepayers.
If counties and municipalities refused to comply, there could be moratoriums on new plant permits.
“That would mean no more development. It would simply stop growth in the Eastern Panhandle,” he said.
Snyder was joined on the panel by Dels. John Doyle, a Democrat who represents the 57th District; Tiffany Lawrence, a Democrat who represents the 58th; and Del.-elect Eric Householder, the Republican who beat incumbent Democrat Terry Walker for the 56th District seat in November.
Doyle said West Virginia is one of the top five or six states in the nation when it comes to being financially sound, Doyle said. It has a substantial rainy day fund and has cut some taxes, including the food tax from 6 percent to 3 percent.
Lawrence spoke of legislation needed to protect renters from eviction when their landlord’s property is in foreclosure. Increasing locality pay for teachers and other public employees who leave for better-paying jobs across the state line is another major issue, she said.
Legislators also have to look into changing the Homestead Exemption, operating hours for bars and taverns to bring them in line with those of neighboring states and spiraling regional jail costs that the counties pay, Lawrence said.
Householder, a Tea Party-supported conservative, said he signed the taxpayer protection pledge and would not violate it by supporting any tax hike.
“With them,” he said pointing to his statehouse colleagues after the forum ended, “it’s spend, spend, spend. With me it’s cut, cut, cut."
He said he will fight to cut government spending, the size of government, and taxes, all planks on his election platform.
“We’re among the poorest states,” he said. “Government has expanded on all levels. It’s out of control.”
The legislature also will be dealing with redistricting next year following the 2010 Census.
West Virginia’s population is 1.8 million. From 2000 to 2007, its population in all but the Eastern Panhandle counties grew by 8 percent. In the same seven years the three local counties grew by 33 percent, the speakers said.
The 16th Senatorial District, represented by Snyder and Democrat John Unger, is the most overpopulated in the state, according to Snyder.
Redistricting will put all of Jefferson County in the 16th District and include the half of Berkeley County east of Interstate 81, he said.
The current 15th District covers Berkeley County west of I-81, several counties to the west and south to Pocahontas County, Snyder said.
The new 15th District line is projected to include Berkeley County west of the interstate, plus all of Morgan, Hampshire and Mineral counties, he said.
On the House side, according to Lawrence and Householder, Householder’s current district, 40 percent of which is in Jefferson County, will all shift to Berkeley County. That will leave three intact districts in Jefferson County.
It is not known what the new district numbers will be.
The legislative luncheon was the first for the chamber, Executive Director Heather Morgan said.