High court won’t rehear shelter petition

NEW CUMBERLAND – The West Virginia Supreme Court has declined to rehear the petition of a Weirton man who objects to taxpayer support for the Hancock County Animal Shelter.

Hancock County commissioners learned on Thursday that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals had denied David Cline’s petition for a rehearing in his legal challenge to the animal shelter excess levy.

Cline, a former Hancock County commissioner and former Weirton councilman, has spent several years challenging the county’s authority to levy a tax in support of the animal shelter, a private, non-profit organization. Cline believes operating an animal shelter goes beyond the county’s statutory obligations regarding stray cats and dogs.

The shelter is operated by the Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation through an annual contract with the Hancock County Commission, which leases the building on Gas Valley Road to the foundation. The shelter is funded through private donations, support from the commission and revenue generated by a tax levy.

Hancock County voters last approved the four-year levy in the May 2012 primary election. The tax, which generates an estimated $100,000 toward the shelter’s annual budget, is collected at a rate of .68 cents per $100 of assessed value of owner-occupied property and 1.36 cents per $100 of assessed value of personal property, such as cars, boats and rentals.

In his latest challenge, filed in Hancock County Circuit Court in July 2012, Cline asked the court for a special writ declaring the levy rate null and void. Cline filed the lawsuit against the county commission on behalf of himself and 43 other taxpayers.

In October 2012, Circuit Court Judge David J. Sims denied Cline’s petition, saying, “Disputes and concerns with the operation and administration of the Hancock County Animal Shelter should be addressed with the Hancock County commissioners and not this court.”

Cline appealed Sims’ ruling to the Supreme Court, which, in October, ruled in favor of the commissioners on two procedural issues raised by Cline. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Cline said he would ask for a rehearing.

Cline could not be reached for comment Sunday, but in a previous interview, he said, “I’m not anti-animal. I’m not anti-humane society. I think they do a fine job. I’m pro-taxpayer.”

In October, Cline, in response to Sims’ suggestion, filed a list of nine concerns with commissioners regarding animal control practices and the operation of the animal shelter in Hancock County.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)