CNG to merge with Dominion
by Paul Leakan

    Consolidated Natural Gas Co. and Dominion Resources Inc. announced today that they are merging to form the nation's fourth-largest electric and natural gas utility, serving 4 million retail customers in five states. Officials at Dominion and CNG, however, have not indicated what effect the merger may have on the future of CNG Transmission and Hope Gas in Clarksburg.
    The deal comes with lingering fears that CNG Transmission and Hope Gas, two of Clarksburg's largest employers, will close down or merge their facilities or suffer heavy cuts. "It's too early for me to anticipate anything like that," said Mark Lazenby, spokesman for Dominion Resources, based in Virginia. ŅI can tell you very definitely that it is going to be much business as usual.
    "We're combining a gas company and an electric company, and there's not a lot of overlap in employees," Lazenby added.
Those employed by CNG Transmission in Clarksburg, nearly 600 people, should not be concerned about any changes in the short term, said Chet Wade, spokesman for CNG in Pittsburgh.
    "I think certainly in the short term, there won't be much effect at all in Clarksburg. Dominion is very committed to its gas operations." CNG customers will not be affected by the merger, Wade said.
    "There will be no change in the billing procedures, and all the same telephone lines will stay the same," he said. "There's really no change at all. What it does provide is a lot of opportunities for growth for CNG."
    The two companies believe they will be able to lower their costs because the merger will eliminate duplicate corporate and administrative programs. It may also create greater efficiency in operations and business processes and streamlined purchasing practices.
    A senior management team will be employed to study the way the two can optimize operations to increase efficiency, Lazenby said. Dominion Resources anticipates revenue enhancements and cost savings of about $150 million to $200 million annually by the year 2002.
    CNG released a statement saying, "The company will use a combination of growth, reduced hiring and attrition to minimize the need for employee separations."  The company also said that all union contracts will be honored.
The merger will create a fully integrated electric and gas company with approximately $8.8 billion in revenues, $23.9 billion in assets, more than $2 billion  in annual cash flow and 17,000 employees.
    When the merger is completed, the combined company will rank as the 11th largest independent oil and gas producer in the country, as measured by  reserves. Under the terms of the agreement, Dominion Resources will acquire all of CNG's shares, with each common share of CNG converted into 1.52 shares of Dominion Resources.
    Dominion Resources will issue about $6.3 billion in stock to CNG stockholders to complete the transaction. CNG stockholders will own approximately 43 percent of the combined company. CNG and Dominion Resources officials planned to hold a press conference on the merger this afternoon.
    Dominion Resources is a holding company that offers electric power, natural gas development and financial services with operations in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia and Peru. The company is headquartered in Richmond and has three subsidiaries with a total of $18 billion in assets and more than 11,000 employees.
    CNG, based in Pittsburgh, employs about 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, New York and other states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. CNG explores for and produces oil and natural gas in the United States and Canada.

Too many teachers, too few students
by Gail Marsh
    Harrison County schools have about 500 fewer students than they had during the 1993-94 school year but 57 more teachers and support staff. And Harrison County is not alone. Other area school systems also struggle to keep their staff numbers in line while enrollments continue to decline.
    County administrators say that although they have fewer students, state and federal mandates force them to hire more personnel without any money to help fund those positions. Yet several school systems are looking at possible cuts in staff, also known as RIFS (reductions in force), in the next school year.
    With state funding for staff based on the number of students in the classroom, how can school systems keep up with the demand for more staff and still balance their already stretched budgets?
    Making decisions to RIF staff or to leave positions vacant following the departure of a staff member will take up a lot of the time school administrators spend on the budgeting process in the coming month.
    "This is not a very pleasant time of year. Every county is probably exploring a number of ideas to try to plan a budget without neglecting any needs," said Kermit 'Butch' Bias, superintendent of Taylor County schools.
    Everything from teacher and service personnel salaries to utilities, maintenance and transportation costs are based on the number of students who attend in each county. Declining enrollment continues to be the biggest factor in the struggle to keep budgets in line.
    The number of students attending kindergarten through 12th grades in West Virginia has dropped 11 percent in the last 10  years, from 333,962 to 295,812. And there is a projected loss of 4,500 more students next year.
    Taylor, Doddridge, Barbour and Randolph counties have reduced their number of professional and service personnel, including aides, custodians, maintenance workers and cooks, in the last 10 years as enrollment has  steadily declined. But those counties must still use local dollars to fund a number of staff positions over the state funding formula.
    The Harrison County school system must use more than $1.4 million from its budget to cover this year's six professional and 17 service personnel who are over the state funding formula.
    "The present state funding formula does not meet the needs of county school systems. You can provide the basic necessities and still not be able to stay within the funding formula," said Robert E. Kittle, superintendent for Harrison County schools.
    Harrison County had 12,256 students in the 1993-94 school year, with 954 professionals and 512 service personnel on staff. This year there are 11,959 students, with 970 professional and 553  service personnel. Kittle said Harrison County's  numbers are up in the last five  years for several reasons, including the implementation of all-day kindergarten and the frequent need to hire aides to work one-on-one with special education students. And, like most counties, a lot of the money to fund extra staff often comes at the expense of maintenance.
    "We pull the money from anywhere we can, but maintenance always gets hit. We take care of the things that may affect the health and safety of the students, such as roof repair, but we look at other requests one by one before we fund them," Kittle said.
    Kittle said he doesn't expect any RIFs at this time, but he said the central office is in the process of notifying some of the schools that there may be reductions through transfers and attrition. "It's a difficult process with so many factors involved, but we're looking at ways to stretch our dollars as far as we can," Kittle said.
    In Taylor County, the school system had 2,757 students five years ago, with 204 professional and 123 service personnel. This year the system has 2,702 students, with 203 professionals and 129 service personnel. That makes the system six professionals over the formula for professional staff and almost 12 over in service personnel, according to Superintendent Bias. "It's a problem to stay within the formula for next year when you can't predict who may walk in the door and need services. We're looking at what services are required and where we may have to look at reducing  staff," he said.
Doddridge County schools had an enrollment of 1,401 students five years ago, with 113 professional and 79 service personnel. This year there are 1,329 students, with 111 professional and 68 service personnel.
    The school system reduced its administrative staff to just three people at the central office a few years ago. It has one principal who serves two schools, another principal who also teaches, and one assistant principal who serves at both the middle and high schools. But the school system remains four over the state formula for professional personnel and 15 in service personnel.
    "We've done most of our cutting with the administration a few years ago, so there is no bloated bureaucracy here. We don't think we'll be adding or reducing any staff this year, but the following year may see some RIFs," according to Ronald K. Nichols, Doddridge school superintendent. Nichols said he would like to see the state Legislature take another look at the needs of rural counties.
    "We would like them to look at the formula in terms of rural counties and the transportation issue. We have a small population, but require a number of bus drivers to travel long distances, and we could use some help in that area," he said.
According to John Hager, superintendent of Barbour County schools, the school system is level with the formula for professional staff and about three service personnel over the formula at the present time.
     The school  system had 2,817 students five years ago and 2,927 last year, but is down by about 80 students this year.
"We're still looking at kindergarten registrations and other projections for next year in order to be able to make more informed decisions," Hager said.
    Because Barbour County has  no levies, the superintendent said he expects the budget process to be challenging.
"We can't always project what will happen, even though we are supposed to get a small increase in enrollment next year. We'll do the best we can to plan, but there is no way to be precise," he said.
    Randolph County has 4,855 students currently enrolled, down from 4,915 five years ago. The system is dealing with 13.3 professional positions and eight service personnel positions over the state funding formula projected for next year.
Superintendent Glenn Karlen  said there will be some RIFs in the county school system, but he doesn't foresee any cuts in service to the students.
    "We've had to cut some programs, but the community has come in to support us in those areas, such as the arts. But we will have to do some creative scheduling for our teachers in order to keep from cutting more services," he said.
Like the other school systems, Karlen said Randolph County is stretched, and the first place to consider getting money is the maintenance budget.
    "We were able to do some work this year, but not what we would have liked to do. With 15 school buildings, you have to do some careful planning in order to keep them in good condition," he said.

Dreams of revitalization still alive for downtown Weston
by Torie Knight

    Despite the financial woes of the city, Weston residents are trying to increase morale and pump some life back into the city's downtown.
    City activists are armed with a plan developed by professors and students at West Virginia University. And although they say a lack of money in the city, which faces at least a $50,000 deficit, has hampered them some, they'll continue plugging along.
    A few years ago, the Weston Organization for Community Development signed up to become the second city in the state to participate in the WVU Community Design Team program.
    Professors and students from WVU took a detailed look at Weston and then handed over a plan for revitalizing the city. The plan focused on making Weston the heart of the region with the intent of helping move the entire region forward.
"We are more than just neighborhoods. We are all one big community. We have to work together," said David Lester, an antique dealer and downtown businessman.
    Although financial strains in the city of Weston have prevented the group from getting needed funding to keep on top of the program, many improvements have been made.
    Last year, 10 businesses moved into the historic downtown district. Smaller gains were made by renovating storefronts and downtown facades and developing a new parking lot. "Weston, as with most small towns, has seen its retail base shrink," said Charles Stalnaker of Citizen  Bank in downtown Weston.
    Parking in downtown Weston has historically been a problem but the new Stonewall Jackson courtesy parking lot has added 100 free spaces. The city made signs that, once put up, will direct visitors to the parking lot that is located across from City Hall. "I think there are more positive signs in downtown Weston than we have seen in years," Stalnaker said. "Things are looking up."
    The community development group became more focused when it first heard that a developer might turn the Weston State Hospital into a golf course, resort and convention center. The plan, created by a Pigeon Forge, Tenn., developer, failed.
Still, the merchants in Weston strived to improve the area. Whatever improvements they made, Lester said, would make the location more attractive to another developer.
    The group decided it was best to work as private citizens and merchants rather than a government entity. "Economic development comes from community members," Lester said. "If you don't have a good community base, industry won't come." And without funds, it was difficult to do much renovating. Instead, the organization focused on creating community-based events to improve morale in Weston.
    Last year, the group hosted two community festivals - a spring and a fall street festival. The second spring street festival is planned for May 1.
    It's a day when the city closes down some of its streets to vehicles and allows vendors and entertainers to come set up shop. The group would like to move on to more expensive projects. They want to focus on business development and retention, youth programs and more downtown restoration.
    Weston City Councilman Jon Tucci said the city has supported the project since its inception but hasn't had the funds to back up the effort. The city still is operating on a budget freeze.
    "As everyone knows we are in a financial crunch," Tucci said. "We have to wait until we get our finances in order."
The group has raised enough money to hire an engineering firm to do a cost analysis of the plan and to help with grant applications. "Somehow, it is going to happen," Lester said.


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