Cumberland Times-News

Local News

October 26, 2011

Potomac Highlands’ commissioners share common concerns

Elected county, state officials talk priorities for legislative session

KEYSER W.Va. — Area county commissioners shared concerns such as county property transfer tax, regional jail costs, electronic media for legal ads, vacant building registration and tax increment financing during a Wednesday meeting with state legislators in Keyser.

Commissioners from Mineral, Hampshire and Hardy counties met with state delegates and Sen. Bob Williams to discuss the 2012 legislative agenda adopted by the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia.

The transfer tax bill, which has been introduced for the past couple of years, would allow the county to keep the property transfer tax it collects, according to Vivian Parsons, executive director for CCAWV.

“Right now, half goes to the state. We are asking the state to give up revenue in their budget and let the county keep it and that is never an easy sale,” said Parsons. “It would be a five-year phase-in.”

The property transfer taxes would offset regional jail costs and there would be no increases in taxes paid by the taxpayer, according to Parsons.

“Regional jail costs is always going to be one of those issues that is at the top of our list,” said Parsons. “We need to thank the legislators for their efforts over the last few years because certainly there is not an easy fix. You guys have done numerous things ... that have helped us offset the expense to the county.”

CCAWV will continue to work with the state Legislature and the state Regional Jail Authority to identify additional revenue sources and jail population reduction methods. Mineral County Commissioner Cindy Pyles noted that the daily jail rate will stay the same. Some of the overcrowding comes from Department of Corrections prisoners who are waiting at the regional jails for an order to come from the judge to take them over to the state, said Pyles.

“Until the order comes down, they are my dime,” said Pyles.

Legislators are working on two bills pertaining to the overcrowding that will be discussed at the legislative session in January. One of the bills deals with putting in a new 1,200-bed facility.

“I think we are getting to a crisis point. We are a sitting duck for a lawsuit and it’s going to happen,” said Parsons. “I think there were about 1,700 DOC prisoners housed in regional jails and when those 1,700 are removed, your 1,200-bed facility is already full. Your regional jails are still full with regional jail (criminals).”

The other bill is a 75- to 100-page bill that gets at the criminal sentencing structure, according to Parsons.

“For the legislators, we feel your pain. If you try to do anything to adjust those penalties, people feel you are being soft on crime,” said Parsons. “We like to say not soft on crime but smart on crime.”

Also on the agenda is adding electronic media, such as radio, television and cable stations or Internet sites for legal ads.

“We feel like it is a new day and the technology is there,” said Parsons.

Legal ads would be required to be published in either a newspaper or a form of electronic media but it would really be up to the county commissioners on the best way to advertise to their constituents, according to Parsons. Delegate Allen Evans noted that he is concerned about the effect it would have on newspapers.

“We don’t want the press to feel like we are trying to take them out of the loop. We are not, but we would like to see it opened up to the 21st century. We wouldn’t take newspapers out of the mix,” said Parsons. “We are hoping that it might end up a better rate for counties because there will be more people in the mix.”

The ads will still have all the same requirements with regard to circulation and the locale they reach, according to Parsons.

The agenda also included policy statements on fiscal issues, responsibility issues and unfunded mandates.

“Of course with fiscal issues we are always very sensitive, as county commissioners, to the funding situation in the county and things that are good for county funds allow us to provide services to the people that we represent,” said Parsons. “Anything that might take that away, we are very sensitive to that.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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