W.Va. Gov. pledges financial support for Berkeley Co. rec center

March 13, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, right, tours DeFluri's Fine Chocolates in Martinsburg, W.Va., Tuesday with owner Charlie Casabona. Tomblin visited the Eastern Panhandle to meet with local business representatives.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin Tuesday renewed a pledge to financially support the South Berkeley Recreation Center project, but declined to specify how much money he would make available.

The $2.1 million bid by Smithsburg-based Roy C. Kline Contractors was about $600,000 higher than the $1.5 million gift Powerball jackpot winner W. Randy Smith announced last year for the project.

Tomblin said during a visit to Martinsburg that he would not alone close the funding gap with $600,000 in state money, but indicated he was aware of the shortfall and would be happy to meet with Smith about the need “and do what I said I would do a year ago.” 

Tomblin’s remarks on the county’s recreation project came during a string of meetings the governor had at City Hospital, the campus of Eastern Division of West Virginia University Robert C. Byrd Health Science Center and small businesses in downtown Martinsburg.

Local supporters of the Democratic governor’s bid for re-election this year also held a fundraiser for Tomblin Tuesday evening.

Tomblin told members of Leadership Berkeley touring City Hospital Tuesday that lawmakers’ passage of a plan this year to solve a $5 billion retiree-related shortfall should better position the state to give pay raises to teachers and other public employees in the future. He said it also addresses state police shortages and invests in the state’s infrastructure.

With the liability known as other post-employee benefits or OPEB, under control and continued economic growth, Tomblin said he is optimistic challenges including difficulty in recruiting state police troopers can be overcome.

“I just feel very strongly that our brightest days are ahead of us,” Tomblin told members of Leadership Berkeley.

Tomblin also touted the passage of legislation regarding substance abuse prevention and treatment, mine safety and an evaluation process for educators, among other legislative successes.

“I think we got every major piece of legislation we asked for,” Tomblin said in a press conference at the hospital.

Tomblin said in an interview that barring a technical problem he would sign a bill that authorizes a bond issue to make improvements at Cacapon State Park in Morgan County and Beech Fork State Park near Huntington, W.Va.

“I think Cacapon, because of its geographic location and the population center, has the potential with those upgrades to become a money producer for the state,” Tomblin said.

The substance abuse bill calls for enhanced reporting for methadone treatment clinics and a “real-time” tracking system for pseudoephedrine purchases among other reforms, but Tomblin said more needs to be done.

When asked about the failure of legislation this year to help counties with ever increasing jail bills, Tomblin said the issue of incarceration costs has a been a “running battle for many years.”

“Obviously, its a drain on the counties, but it’s also a drain on the state,” Tomblin said.

Tomblin noted the problem with drug addiction is a primary reason behind the state’s increasing prison population and said his administration would monitor the impact of the substance abuse bill and propose additional changes, accordingly.

“We’ve said from the beginning. This is only the start,” Tomblin said.

In a meeting with small business owners in downtown Martinsburg, Tomblin apologized for being unable to address all of their concerns, but indicated he intended to return with leading members of his administration, particularly the state Development Office to meet again.

Tomblin, who is seeking a four-year term this year, said he is “very proud” of the successes the state has realized over the past 16 months since he became acting governor when Joe Manchin stepped down to replace the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

“There was the naysayers and the little boy cry(ing) wolf that there would be disaster here because we’ve never had this situation before, that a governor had left, but I think that it was a very smooth transition,” Tomblin said.

“We’ve been able to continue to move the state forward, we’re financially in better shape than most of our sister states,” he added.

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