NEW CUMBERLAND - A group of Hancock County residents is suing to void the tax levy, approved by voters in May, that supports the Hancock County Animal Shelter.
The suit, filed in Hancock County Circuit Court earlier this month, names the Hancock County commissioners as defendants and asks that the "excess levy rate" be declared null and void. The four-year levy generates $100,000 annually toward the operation of the shelter, located at 715 Gas Valley Road.
Voters defeated the levy in an October 2011 special election but approved it by a healthy margin in the May 8 primary when it was made clear that it was a renewal, not a tax increase.
The complaint, filed by Weirton resident David Cline and 43 other people, states, "The County Commission has the power to contract with, and reimburse, a private humane society but has no authority to levy for the direct financial support of the private corporation."
It further states, "The purpose, mission and goals of the private corporation are much different than the taxpayers' statutory obligations. The plaintiffs believe, with millions of dollars of gaming funds available within the county treasury, there are sufficient funds to meet the county taxpayers' obligation. ..."
Shelter spokesman Tom Goff could not be reached for comment. County commissioners would not comment on the suit but authorized their legal counsel, Bill Fahey, on Thursday to defend them against it.
Also Thursday, commissioners authorized placing on the Nov. 6 ballot a renewal bond levy for the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop. The levy raises $250,000 annually for the agency, which provides vocational training for people with disabilities.
Commissioners also learned Thursday that someone left an anonymous flyer in the newspaper boxes of residents in the Oakland Public Service District, hinting that one of the district's water storage tanks contains lead.
The district, which treats and distributes water to 850 customers in central Hancock County, currently is in the midst of a $5 million project to remove iron and manganese from the water.
The project includes the repair and repainting of two tanks - Golden Key and Wylie Ridge Road - and the construction of a third tank on Chapman Road. Workers from Caldwell Tanks Inc., of Louisville, Ky., currently are preparing the Golden Key water tank for interior and exterior painting.
The three-page flyer asks, "Does the tank contain lead on the existing coating? Has anyone even checked for lead?"
Senior Project Manager Gregory Scott, of Pittsburgh-based Buchart Horn Inc., told commissioners that the flyer contains inaccurate information and is misleading.
"Something that is raising ill-founded fears is not appreciated," Scott said. "We're a little perplexed as to who's behind this."
Scott said the Golden Key tank, which dates back to 1995, has been checked for lead and has none.
The flyer also suggests that the working conditions inside the tanks are unsafe, but Scott said the work is being done in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources also is providing oversight, he said.
In other business Thursday, commissioners approved the payment of $2,821 to Gus "Chuck" Svokas for 12 unused vacation days. Svokas is retiring as economic development coordinator after 14 years of service in the commissioners' office.
"I appreciate everything you guys have done for me," Svokas said. "It's been truly a good experience."
"It's been fun," Commissioner Jeff Davis said, "but you're done."
Svokas will continue to sit on some county boards, including the abandoned building committee.
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