Brooke to place levies on ballot

WELLSBURG – In addition to candidates for Congress, the state Legislature and county commissioner, Brooke County voters will be asked to consider renewal of two long-time county levies in the May 7 primary election.

The county commission on Tuesday moved to place the county’s five-year ambulance excess and fire levies on the ballots.

The levies normally have been the focus of a special election, but Commission President Tim Ennis said the county can save nearly $50,000 by including them on ballots in the primary election.

The commissioners said the levy rates won’t change, though they were asked Tuesday to consider raising the amount for the ambulance excess levy by Mary Kay Wallace, director of the Brooke County Public Library.

The library and its Follansbee branch are among many agencies that receive a portion of the ambulance excess levy. The levy, which currently generates $718,553 per year, also is divided among the Brooke County, Bethany and Weirton ambulance services; Brooke County Health Department; Brooke County Parks and Recreation Commission, which operates Brooke Hills Park; Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service office; Brooke County Committee on Aging, which operates the Brooke County Senior Center; Healthways Inc., including operation of the Brooke County Opportunity Center and costs for mental hygiene proceedings; the Mary H. Weir Public Library and a fund reserved for courthouse repairs.

The fire levy currently generates $335,995 per year, which is divided equally among the Beech Bottom, Bethany, Bethany Pike, Colliers, Follansbee, Franklin Community, Hooverson Heights, McKinleyville, Weirton, Wellsburg and Windsor Heights fire departments.

Wallace told the commission with the rising cost of books and other materials and a proposed increase in the minimum wage, the libraries need more funding or they could be forced to cut services or hours.

“The last thing we want to do is curtail services because we don’t have the budget to maintain them,” she said.

Wallace noted in addition to providing the public free books and other materials for information and entertainment, the library’s staff has assisted many with online job searches on its computers.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said he and the other commissioners also have heard concerns from other agencies but must consider the impact on taxpayers also.

Noting the commission cut $1.2 million from its budget last year, Andreozzi said, “With the economy the way it is now in this county, I’m not in favor of increasing taxes.”

Commissioners Norma Tarr and Ennis said they agreed.

“With the economic condition in Brooke County being what it is, we didn’t feel this was the right time to raise taxes,” Ennis said.

Andreozzi suggested there may be “light at the end of the tunnel,” in the form of increased revenue from natural gas drilling, and the commission is monitoring the situations in Ohio and Marshall counties, where gas wells have been drilled for some time.

Called for comment, County Assessor Tom Oughton said a number of residents have signed leases for gas drilling, but the county doesn’t directly receive money from income tax on the signing fees.

He said only when the wells are producing and the property’s value is reassessed, will the county see an increase in revenue.

In related business, Wallace announced she is stepping down as director after nearly 17 years to focus on her battle with cancer.

The commissioners joined several library board members, who accompanied Wallace, in praising her efforts at the library, which have included the addition of Internet-accessible computers and e-books and a $640,000 expansion that includes a children’s room, second meeting room and exhibit detailing the experiences of World War II prisoners of war captured on the Philippine Islands.

The commission also learned of a vacancy on the library board left with the resignation of Sandy Horvath, whose service included coordinating a tour of historic Wellsburg homes that raised $1,200 for the library.

Also on Tuesday:

The commission agreed to authorize Bob Fowler, the county’s ambulance director, to pursue a lease purchase agreement for two used ambulances. Andreozzi said the ambulances belong to a California ambulance service, have been driven less than 100,000 miles and are being offered for a comparatively low price.

He said they will replace ambulances that are in poor condition and the ambulance service will assume all obligations for the lease.

Tarr asked John Brown, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, to conduct a traffic count of the intersection of Archer Hill Road and state Route 2. She said she’s heard from residents who complained about their safety in entering the busy highway in that area.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said there aren’t an unusual number of accidents there, but it is an area of concern and a study should be done if residents desire it.

Jackson advised he has hired Heather Conley to fill the administrative assistant position and Jaclyn Cody as dispatcher for the county’s emergency 911 center.

Resident Les McGowan asked if the administrative assistant position was advertised. Jackson said he normally doesn’t purchase formal ads for positions he fills regularly because it would cost his department almost $2,000 for each.

Andreozzi told McGowan if he has documentation showing the sheriff’s department must advertise vacancies to present it at a future meeting.

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