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Money still in play for Cacapon State Park improvements

February 12, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • This 2008 Herald-Mail file photo shows The Cacapon State Park Foundation's Homecoming. Legislation that authorizes up to $52.5 million in bonds for capital improvements at Cacapon State Park in Morgan County and one other state park is still "very much alive" in what is shaping up to be a tight budget year, state Sen. Herb Snyder said Friday.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Legislation that authorizes up to $52.5 million in bonds for capital improvements at Cacapon State Park in Morgan County and one other state park is still “very much alive” in what is shaping up to be a tight budget year, state Sen. Herb Snyder said Friday.

A committee substitute for Senate Bill 362 pending in the Senate Finance Committee would make $3 million in funding for annual debt service on the bond issue available July 1, 2013, Snyder said.

The original version of the bill proposed the funding be available this July, but the one-year delay amended into the legislation earlier this month by the Senate Natural Resources Committee made it more palatable to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and others, said Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley.

“It’s an extremely tight budget this year,” Snyder said of Tomblin’s spending plan for 2012-13.

If the legislation is adopted, the proceeds from the bond issue would pay for an estimated $23 million expansion and renovation project at Cacapon State Park and improvements to Beech Fork State Park near Huntington, W.Va.

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Proposed for the 6,000-acre park 10 miles south of Berkeley Springs is a 67,000-square-foot, 79-room addition to the lodge. Included will be new indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, fitness center, dining rooms, meeting and private board rooms, and a bar and lounge on the first floor.

Nearly $1 million of the total cost will be dedicated to upgrades to the 18-hole, par-72 Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed golf course, officials have said.

Snyder said the Cacapon State Park improvements have been designed and are practically “shovel-ready,” but the project for Beech Fork, which has the support of House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, is about a year behind the Morgan County project.

Beech Fork State Park is in the area of Thompon’s district in Wayne County.

While Snyder expects it to be difficult this year to win support for legislation that has notable cost, he said he isn’t “bashful” about the state park funding because the money is to be allocated from excess lottery revenue. And among the state’s four racetracks, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races generated about 54 percent of the excess lottery revenue total, Snyder said. Snyder said he expects the Charles Town racetrack soon will account for more than 65 percent.

Snyder said officials also found that Cacapon State Park is one of the state’s highest-performing parks and believes the improvements would help the park make money unlike others across the state.

Among other bills, Snyder said he and other area lawmakers are still pushing for the passage of a proposal to divert real estate transfer tax revenue from the state to each of the 55 counties to help rising jail costs.

Berkeley County would have received more than $600,000 to put toward its jail bill if the 1 percent of transfer tax revenue targeted was retained by the county instead of being deposited in state coffers, according to figures Snyder released Friday. Jefferson County would have netted nearly $500,000 and Morgan County would have had an additional $178,000, Snyder said.

To lessen the impact of the state budget, Senate Bill 347 proposes to phase in the diversion of the tax revenue from the state to the counties over five years. The bill also requires the funding to be used for regional jail expenses.

“We’re hoping the third (year of introducing the bill) is the charm,” Snyder said.

Overall, Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said legislation has been slow-moving this year compared to the previous nine regular sessions he has served in House.

Among bills he and other members of the Eastern Panhandle delegation are sponsoring are House Bill 4370, which would adjust the school-aid formula and reduce local-share funding by 10 percent over a two-year period.

Duke said he also hopes a bill he’s sponsoring that would extend the senior citizens’ tax credit to taxpayers whose income is less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline will gain traction. The income eligibility threshold now stands at 150 percent or less.

House Bill 4369 would result in the loss of about $3 million more in revenue from the state’s general fund, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill by the state Tax Department.

But considering the size of the state’s budget, Duke said he believes the state’s loss in revenue is nominal when thousands of additional seniors could be helped through expanding the income-eligibility qualification for the tax credit.

Yet in its fiscal note, the tax department also indicated that the loss in state revenue as a result of the tax credit is expected to increase over the next decade, when the number of senior citizens in West Virginia is expected to grow by nearly 37 percent.

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