Brooke commission nixes request

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission on Tuesday denied a request by the Weirton Redevelopment Authority to extend its Southern Redevelopment District and was asked to consider the extension of Windsor Heights to include state Route 2 to the county’s southern border.

In February, the Weirton board approached the commission about including the former Weirton Steel Railyard and a small area east of Harmon Creek in Brooke County in its Southern Redevelopment District.

Weirton officials said including the railyard will allow the authority to plan an industrial access road linking the northern and southern portions of the city that would divert large trucks away from high traffic areas downtown.

They said the board isn’t looking to annex the property, which would require a formal request to the county commissioners.

But County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi was unconvinced, saying, “I don’t see a need for that request at this time. There may be a need in the future.”

He said the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and Brooke County Economic Development Authority can work on the county’s behalf for development in that area.

County Commissioner Norma Tarr supported the move but stressed she wanted to know ArcelorMittal’s plans for the railyard before granting the request.

“It’s not a dead issue. We’d just like to see what they (ArcelorMittal) have planned,” she said.

The commission was asked by Windsor Heights Solicitor Quan Lee to consider permitting an annexation by the village of sections of roads, including state Route 2, near the village.

Windsor Heights Mayor Bill Liposchak, who appeared before the commission last week, said the annexation would include Airport Road east to Girtys Point Road and west to state Route 2 and Route 2 south to Brooke County’s southern border.

Lee said the annexation also would include a bottom section of Windy Hill Road not incorporated by the village but no property along it. The road leads to the hilltop where the small community is located.

Asked by Andreozzi if the annexation would include property along Route 2, Lee said it wouldn’t include any property except roads.

The commissioners agreed to refer the request to County Prosecutor Joseph Barki III to review legal matters, including whether a public hearing is required.

Also on hand was Windsor Heights Police Chief Ulrich Utt, who was asked if the village police would be patroling that section of Route 2 if the annexation were approved. Utt said the village police would patrol the highway, adding some residents have complained of speeding in that area.

Utt said the village’s volunteer fire department has been called to incidents in that area and beyond it.

Also on Tuesday, the commission agreed to have the courthouse open on the first and last Saturday of each month only, from 9 a.m. to noon. The change will be effective after this Saturday, when it will be closed because of the Easter holiday.

Andreozzi had proposed closing the courthouse on Saturdays, when it currently is open from 9 a.m. to noon, citing reports from some courthouse employees there are few visitors.

He also suggested extending the courthouse’s hours, to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Thursdays to make it more accessible to people who work.

Local attorney Marc Chernenko suggested the extended hours are not late enough to accommodate those who work in Pittsburgh and the Saturday hours were helpful to those who work or live away but have county business, such as estate matters, to conduct.

Andreozzi said though he asked for public input, he received less than 60 calls in five weeks. He said opening the courthouse on the two Saturdays only is a compromise that may be revisited.

Asked whether the courthouse will be open on Saturdays of holiday weekends, Ennis said it won’t.

The news received applause and thank yous from several courthouse employees attending the meeting.

The commission also approved a $7.1 million budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Noting it was reduced from an $8.3 million budget last year, Andreozzi said, “It’s a tight budget, a very responsible budget.”

County Commissioner Tim Ennis agreed, saying, “There’s not a lot of frills or fluff in it. It will be a challenge to make through this fiscal year.”

The commissioners said cuts were made to address a drop in revenue. For example, the county’s coal severance fund, established through the state’s sharing of revenue from the coal industry, is projected at about $44,000, down from about $200,000 last year, Ennis said.

County Assessor Tom Oughton said though a number of residents have signed leases with natural gas companies, the county doesn’t see a direct boost from that because it’s claimed as part of their income, which isn’t taxed by the county.

Ennis said the county isn’t expected to see a significant boost from the natural gas industry until royalties are paid to residents for natural gas drawn from their property, which isn’t expected to occur for a few years.

Ennis said to cut more than $1 million from its budget, the commission has taken such steps as combining the positions of county emergency management director and ambulance director, a move made last year; and budgeting for a part-time custodian to replace a full-time custodian who is retiring soon.

“The people of Brooke County will see very little change in services,” he said.

Andreozzi said the commission also is exploring various options for health care coverage for county employees in an effort to keep that cost manageable.

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