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Area benefits from Budget Digest

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Several Harrison County agencies and community groups received monies through the 2000 Legislative Budget Digest and some area legislators said they want the digest to stay intact.

Members of the Legislature's Joint Conference Committee approved $26 million in digest expenditures on June 22 out of a total budget of $2.7 billion. Two area legislators are members of the conference committee -- Del. Barbara Warner, D-Harrison and Sen. William Sharpe Jr., D-Lewis.

Digest expenditures in Harrison County cover a wide range of projects, Warner said Wednesday. Expenditures include: $1 million for dredging Simpson Creek, $47,000 for water and sewer infrastructure in Nutter Fort, $20,000 for the Clarksburg Parks and Recreation Board and $25,000 to the Harrison County Commission for Summit Park.

Also, Bridgeport, Liberty and South Harrison High schools received money for equipment and facilities, and public libraries in Bridgeport, Clarksburg and Shinnston also received digest funds, Warner said.

Under the state Division of Culture and History, digest funds were directed to the Salem Apple Butter Festival, the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, The Black Heritage Festival, The Glen Elk Ethnic Festival, the Blackberry Festival in Nutter Fort, The Lost Creek Community Festival and Fort New Salem. Digest funds were also allocated for community centers in Lost Creek and Sardis.

Del. Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, spoke in opposition to the digest on the House floor several times during the 2000 legislative session, saying it is unfair to many districts because money is funneled to districts with powerful representatives. Johnson, former Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman, the West Virginia Education Association and other citizen groups filed a petition with the state Supreme Court June 21, in which they asked the court to declare the digest unconstitutional. The petitioners contend the disbursements should be approved by the full Legislature. Also, they contend the spending directives in the digest violate executive agency prerogatives.

Del. Frank "Chunki" Angotti, D-Harrison, said that while digest payments are authorized by the conference committee, Harrison County Legislators work together to seek money for worthwhile projects.

"We have to work hard to get our budget digest requests in," Angotti said. "There's nothing wrong with Harrison County getting a fair shot at the digest money. Why would anyone want to discontinue it when it benefits every county in the state?"

Angotti said digest funds are particularly helpful to community centers and libraries.

"It can actually save tax money. You can give $2,000 to a group for materials for a community center and they'll supply all the labor. That $2,000 will turn into $10,000. Some groups can take digest money and get matching funds.

If we get rid of the digest, how could we replace this money?"

Del. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, also said the digest is a useful tool for helping schools, libraries and small communities.

"We certainly can use it to help small communities like Sardis, West Milford and Lost Creek. Our libraries get funding through the digest and it helps senior citizens centers," Cann said. "I'm really happy we got money to put cameras in county school busses. They're a good safety feature and should deter bad behavior. We also got money for a veteran's memorial at the VA park.

"I think the process is good," Cann added. "If you're not part of the process, you don't get anything done."

Warner also favors keeping the digest.

"I enjoy the budget digest, and I think the people of Harrison County enjoy its benefits," Warner said. "It helps so many of our small communities, and those funds would not be there without it."

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.

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