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Panhandle lawmakers offer homestead, MARC funding bills

January 15, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Legislation concerning MARC commuter train funding and reform of homestead exemption for seniors were among proposals introduced last week by Eastern Panhandle lawmakers at the beginning of the 80th West Virginia Legislature.

Whether it passes or not, the reintroduction of a proposal to create the Commuter Rail Access Act is needed to keep the spotlight on the MARC funding issue, state Sen. Herb Snyder said Friday.

“We simply cannot ignore this issue,” said Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 58 with state Sens. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, and Douglas E. Facemire, D-Braxton.

If adopted, West Virginia would provide about $500,000 in tax credits to CSX if the railroad owner waives the rail access fees it charges MARC for use of its track in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Snyder said.

The tax credit bill is written in a way that would allow any railroad in the state to take advantage of the commuter train initiative, but the Eastern Panhandle is the only region served in such a manner, Snyder said.

MARC is operated by the Maryland Transit Administration and Snyder said the train service to Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg will remain vulnerable without financial support from West Virginia.

While officials previously agreed to the addition of a $2 charge for MARC riders from the West Virginia stations to help Maryland with its budget shortfall, that didn’t address the lack of funding support from West Virginia, Snyder said.

Reforming the homestead exemption to provide seniors with additional property tax relief will be an even more difficult issue this year, but Snyder said support among lawmakers is growing across the state.

Snyder, Unger and state Sen. Ronald F. Miller, D-Greenbrier, are backing a resolution to amend the state constitution to allow for an alternative percentage-based calculation to provide seniors property tax relief in addition to the current $20,000 exemption.  

Unger also is a sponsor of a separate proposal to increase the exemption from $20,000 to $50,000 and Dels. Walter Duke and Jonathan Miller, both R-Berkeley, are backing a House resolution to increase the homestead exemption from $20,000 to $40,000 and provide the Legislature with the option to adjust the exemption every 10 years for inflation.

Other bills of particular local interest introduced last week include:

House Bill 2040, sponsored by Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, which proposes to increase the number of magistrates in Jefferson County by one for a total of four.
House Bill 2247, sponsored by Miller and Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, which proposes changes to how the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library’s board of directors is composed, among other changes.

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