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Martinsburg, Berkeley Co. officials disagree on airport authority expansion issue

August 02, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — At their joint summit Thursday, Martinsburg and Berkeley County leaders were at odds about whether the six-member Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority board should be expanded.

A majority of the Martinsburg City Council backed Mayor George Karos’ position that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

A majority of the Berkeley County Council said they wanted to appoint at least one, if not two members, to add “new blood” to the managing board for airport operations.

The county council previously voted to add four members and has interviewed several candidates, but council members signaled a willingness to compromise after hearing from the attorneys that serve as their legal counsel.

Among the minority on city council in favor of expanding the board’s size were Ward 5 Councilman Jason Baker and Ward 2 Councilman Kevin Knowles.

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County council President William L. “Bill” Stubblefield, the only council member to not advocate for expansion, said he would like to see the city and county continue to appoint the same number of board members.

Noting fellow county council members had backed away from appointing four members in an apparent compromise move, Stubblefield asked Karos to consider appointing at least one new member on behalf of the city.

Karos said he would.

Advocates for expansion have cited state code that appears to require additional members be added to the airport authority board when additional revenue is contributed by the appointing entity. County council legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said the statute was poorly written by lawmakers, and said the code should not be interpreted literally, given a sudden increase or decrease in funding from year to year that could occur.

The following issues also were presented and discussed:

Berkeley County Public Safety Building

County Councilman Douglas E. Copenhaver Jr. said the county hopes to occupy the new building for the sheriff’s law-enforcement division toward the end of the first quarter of 2013.

“We’re doing as much as we can in-house,” Copenhaver said of renovations to the former Martin’s Food Market building at 510 S. Raleigh St.

The project would have progressed more quickly had it been awarded to a general contractor, but it also would have been more expensive, Copenhaver said.

The project is on budget, Councilman Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci said. County officials approved a $5.5 million financing plan last year to pay for the renovations.

Plans for the former CVS pharmacy in the shopping plaza were not specified, but Stubblefield told Karos it likely wouldn’t be available to the city after the mayor appeared to joke about moving City Hall there.

“We would really be together then,” Karos said.

Martinsburg Wastewater Treatment Plant Project

City Manager Mark Baldwin said the project is estimated to cost about $47 million, and city residents could see their sewer rates more than double as a result of the plant upgrade, which must be in place at the end of 2015 to comply with federal standards implemented to clean up Chesapeake Bay.

The cost for 4,000 gallons used currently is $14.46 and is among the most affordable in the state, according to Baldwin, who cited West Virginia Public Service Commission data. The upgrade could mean an increase to the “$36 range,” Baldwin said. 

Copenhaver said Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District customers, who currently pay more than double what city customers are charged according to the PSC, also are expected to see higher rates as a result of the Chesapeake Bay standards.

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