Brooke County wants energy revenue

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commissioners on Tuesday discussed plans by West Virginia legislators to establish a state fund with oil and gas revenue and efforts to address dilapidated structures in the county.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said he doesn’t support the West Virginia Future Fund bill that was approved recently by the state Senate because he believes it takes too much from counties where oil and natural gas are being produced.

The topic arose because the commission received an update on the legislation from state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, who co-sponsored the bill introduced by Senate President Jeff Kessler, a Democrat from Glen Dale.

Yost noted if approved, the law would allow the state Legislature to set aside 25 percent of the severance tax revenues collected from oil and gas companies above a $175 million benchmark.

The fund would collect interest for six years before being used for economic development projects, building infrastructure and increasing teacher salaries.

A similar approach has been taken with coal severance funds, a portion of which is distributed to all of the state’s 55 counties. Supporters of the bill say the state would be more prosperous today if it had established a similar fund in the coal industry’s heyday.

Andreozzi said he supports the concept of a fund to reinvest the revenue in improvements to the state. But he said Brooke County could use a larger share of it to repair local roads and improve the county courthouse.

Commission President Tim Ennis said Brooke County should benefit from natural gas produced there, but it also may benefit from the state pooling money collected from multiple gas-producing counties.

Such money could be used to repair and improve state roads or provide grants for water and sewer projects, he said.

Ennis said the fund is among issues the commissioners will discuss when they meet next week with state legislators. Next week’s regular meeting has been moved to Friday at 10:30 a.m. because of their visit to Charleston.

Ennis said another issue they will discuss is funding to assist with the removal of dilapidated structures.

On Tuesday Rich Ferguson, former Brooke County sheriff and a member of the county’s newly formed dilapidated structure committee, said about 300 such buildings and illegal dump sites have been identified and photographed.

He said in addition to being an eyesore, the buildings can hurt the property values of those that neighbor them.

Ferguson noted the commissioners have established concrete barriers at three sites near Cross Creek Road and the Wabash Bridge where illegal dumping has been a recurring problem.

A county ordinance gives owners of dilapidated structures 30 days to repair or remove them. After that, they may be fined $100 per day.

If the owners continue not to respond, the county may condemn the structures, order their demolition and place a lien on the property so if it is ever sold, the commission may recoup the costs for demolition.

But funds for demolitions have been very limited. In recent years Ferguson used a $15,000 state grant to remove or clean up several trailer sites.

The commission hopes to prioritize structures that may be demolished through a $20,978 Governor’s Community Partnership Grant awarded to the county last year.

Ferguson said as sheriff he encountered some residents who made an earnest effort to repair or clean up their property and he hopes most will cooperate.

The dilapidated structure committee will hold its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the county courthouse.

The commission also heard from the Rev. Joe Cuomo, pastor of the Follansbee Christian Assembly; and Joel Sizemore, a member of the church.

Sizemore told the commission of the church’s support for efforts by Brooke County Emergency Management Director Bob Fowler to provide voluntary electronic monitoring devices for people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease and other mental disorders.

And Cuomo said in an effort to curb drug abuse, the church is planning to host a Teen Challenge program later this year. He said despite its name, the program has helped people of all ages to overcome addiction through Christian teachings.

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