News for Tuesday, June 29, 1999

High court upholds fire fee

by Troy Graham
The U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld Clarksburg's fire service fee, a decision that city officials believe will end a 15-year battle with City Councilwoman Kathy Folio and members of her family over the legality of the fee.
City Manager Percy Ashcraft said he will immediately instruct attorneys to collect the $50,000 in back fire service fees and penalties that members of the Folio family owe.
The city will also begin collecting another $150,000 from residents and business owners who have withheld their fees while the Folio case played out in court.
The fire service fee, which generates $750,000 annually, or 39 percent of the fire department's budget, was enacted in 1984. Members of the Folio family who own several buildings throughout Clarksburg, challenged the fee. The state Supreme Court ruled in the city's favor in 1989 and the Folios paid up.
Members of the Folio family refused to pay the fee again in 1990 and mounted another legal challenge, this time arguing that the fee was unconstitutional. The city has spent $110,000 of "taxpayer money" fighting court battles over the fee in the 1990s, Ashcraft said.
Gregory Morgan, an attorney who represented the city in the matter, said there are no more legal challenges the Folios can raise.
"You can never discount the imagination of a creative lawyer but I would say there are no more credible challenges," he said.
Kathy Folio, who recently declared Ashcraft's job in jeopardy after a recent city hall scandal, said she was unaware of the ruling Monday.
Folio said she wouldn't comment on whether family members will pay up until she talks to her attorney.
"I don't know what our plans are," she said. "Until I talk to my attorney, I don't want to answer any of those questions."
Surrounded by firefighters at a city hall press conference, Ashcraft called the ruling a "significant event in the city's history."
Clarksburg citizens are the benefactors of the fee, he said. The fee allows the city to maintain a full-time fire department, which reduces home owners' insurance, Ashcraft said.
Home owners pay $60 a year, while commercial property owners pay .45 cents per square foot of property.
The city has supplemented the fire department's budget while the fire service fee case was argued in court, said fire Chief Rick Scott.
"There's a lot of things we could use and hopefully this will help out," he said.

UHC to scrap medical waste incinerator

Hospital has been waiting for state to establish new air pollution standards

by Troy Graham
United Hospital Center will replace its medical waste incinerator with an autoclave system that uses steam to disinfect waste in order to come into compliance with new federal emission standards.
The state is in the process of implementing the new standards for emissions from medical waste incinerators. A 1998 report identified 13 hospitals in the state that would not meet the new standards once they go into effect, said Jon McClung, with the state Division of Environmental Protection. UHC is one of those hospitals.
Once the state adopts a plan to meet those standards, the hospitals will have three years to upgrade their incinerators, McClung said. Rather than upgrade its incinerator, UHC will install the autoclave, said hospital President Bruce Carter.
Many of the smaller hospitals on the list will most likely stop incinerating and contract to haul out their waste, Carter said. In fact, several of the hospitals have either already closed their incinerators or are considering the move, DEP officials said.
UHC, however, is one of the state's largest hospitals. It creates 405,000 pounds of medical waste every year, Carter said.
"If you're much larger and you start getting into the half-million pound range, you have to start looking at new technologies that are cost-effective," he said.
The autoclave system steams medical waste until it is sterile. The waste can then be disposed at a regular landfill. The hospital will still have to send out some waste, such as body parts and blood, to be incinerated, Carter said. The hospital won't accept waste from other facilities to be disinfected in its autoclave, he said.
The autoclave will cost $600,000, Carter said. It would have cost $500,000 to upgrade the hospital's incinerator, but the hospital "would still be polluting," he said.
In addition, there is no guarantee that the emission standards wouldn't be strengthened in the future, causing the hospital to upgrade again, Carter said.
The hospital will begin putting in its autoclave once the state implements its plan to meet the federal regulations, he said. It should take about 12 months to install the autoclave technology, Carter said.
The state plan has been completed, and is under review by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, McClung said. It could be anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months before it is approved. The state standards will basically mirror the federal standards for reducing emissions, which were established in 1997.

W.Va. enrollment plummets in '90s

by Shawn Gainer
Declining student enrollment continues to loom over many area school systems, serving as fuel for a continued push for consolidation of schools and resulting in fewer state dollars for school system coffers.
The number of students in state schools declined by 31,886 from the 1989-1990 to the 1998-1999 school years, according to the West Virginia Department of Education's second month headcount enrollment history. Harrison County lost 562 students during this period; Marion, 647; Upshur, 364; Lewis, 254.
"We're the only state in the nation declining in student population," said Bill White, a regional representative for the West Virginia Education Association. "The state needs fewer teachers and fewer buildings. It fuels the whole school consolidation issue."
Since March 1989, the West Virginia Board of Education has approved just over 300 school closings, including many in the North Central Region of the state. Harrison County lost 12 schools; nine elementaries, one junior high, one primary and one intermediate school. Three elementaries were closed in Marion County. Doddridge County lost four elementary schools. Two elementaries and one high school were closed in Taylor County. Four schools have been closed in Lewis County, though a new elementary is under construction.
While no schools in Upshur County were closed in this period, the Upshur Board of Education voted in February not to follow a recommendation from outgoing Superintendent Richard Hoover to close Rock Cave and Central Elementary Schools. While the passage of a $1.4-million-a-year school levy has helped preserve the schools for now, Hoover said closings will become an issue again if enrollment continues to drop. He added that enrollment decline is particularly troublesome for county school systems because it affects state School Aid Formula Disbursements and financial assistance from the state School Building Authority.
Robert Kittle, Harrison County superintendent of schools, said that enrollment statistics for the 1999-2000 school year would not be available until September or October. He did say that enrollment in Harrison County has stabilized.
"We've lost a few kids over the last year, but nothing significant," he said. "We gained a little in kindergarten enrollment."
Wayne Clutter of the state Department of Education said department personnel are projecting enrollment at the state level to continue to drop through 2004. State enrollment is projected to decline from 296,559 in the 1999-2000 school year to 274,472 in 2004 -- a loss of 22,087.
"We have an aging population and a low birth rate isn't helping," Clutter said.
Mike Cox of the state Department of Education said enrollment decline is projected to be most severe in southern counties.
"Kanawha County is losing students at a serious rate and there will likely be heavy drops in counties like Logan, Mingo and McDowell," Cox said.
"In the last decade, West Virginia lost the largest percentage of enrollment of any state in the nation," he continued. "I think the worst is over, though indicators are that numbers will continue to drop."

Everybody's looking for a picnic site

Area parks pretty much booked up for the Fourth

by Jessica Laton
If you're planning on heading to one of the area's parks this weekend for a picnic, you should have planned ahead -- way ahead.
Shelters in parks around the area have been reserved for up to a year in advance of Independence Day weekend.
"We began taking reservations this time last year for the next year," said Linda Nosse, who handles shelter reservations at Watters Smith State Park near West Milford.
Clarksburg Parks and Recreation begins taking reservations each year on March 1 for Veterans Memorial Park.
"We probably filled up shelters by early March for July and  August," said John Cooper,  Parks and Recreation superintendent.
Most shelters in the area are booked for this weekend, but parks also offer single picnic tables on a first-come, first-served basis. But Cooper suggests making some plans for those tables, also.
"Definitely come out early," said Cooper. "We open the gates at 7 a.m."
Tygart Lake State Park's shelters are also booked, along with most of the park's other facilities.
"Our campground will most definitely be full. We fill up early every Fourth by Thursday. Our cabin area will be full. Our lodge will be full," said Mick Elsey, superintendent at Tygart Lake. "We also have approximately 150 picnic tables at three different sites -- lots of room for everybody."
Watters Smith State Park also has picnic tables with grills attached, but Nosse has a piece of advice for anyone wanting a table: "Come early."
All the parks are expecting a big crowd and are prepared for the holiday weekend.
"On holidays and weekends, and the Fourth is on a weekend, we increase our staff due to the high number of shelter reservations," said Cooper. "The Fourth is a normal picnic day. People come out into the parks and get together with friends and family."
But parks and pools are not the only places increasing staff for the weekend. Foodland in Rosebud Plaza is preparing for the weekend with extra workers and extra supplies.
"It just takes a lot of extra work to get it all out," said Dave Thomas, grocery manager at Foodland. "Saturday will probably be the busiest day of the year."
Big K-Mart at the Eastpointe shopping center is also bracing for the holiday rush.
"It's the busiest time of the year," said Joe Skidmore, pantry manager.
Skidmore suggests buying your supplies early. "Don't wait to the last minute to stock up. Once we are out, we are out."
 said Skidmore.
Added Thomas: "They should buy early to avoid the crowds."

Local and regional news briefs

Clarksburg resident killed in car wreck in Doddridge County

A 20-year-old Clarksburg man died Sunday afternoon in a one-car accident along Big Flint Road in Doddridge County.
Paul Ray Siders Jr. of Route 6, Box 526, in Sun Valley was traveling north on Big Flint Road Sunday about 12:25 p.m. when he ran off the right side of the road, said Trooper G.L. Campbell of the Doddridge County detachment of the West Virginia State Police.
"When he cut back on the road, he lost control and his car started skidding," Campbell said.
Siders' car ran off the road and turned over in a nearby creek. Siders was partially thrown from his vehicle through the sun roof, Campbell said. When the car turned on its top, he was trapped beneath it.
Siders was pronounced dead at the scene. Doddridge County EMS workers tried for about an hour to revive him, Campbell said.
Siders was employed at Pratt-Whitney as an aircraft assembler and was a member of the West Virginia Army National Guard.

Marion mine still has a future despite weekend explosion

FAIRVIEW (AP) -- An explosion of methane gas in an  underground fire blew chunks of concrete 200 feet in the air over the weekend, but that shouldn't cause the permanent shutdown of a Consolidation Coal Co. mine.
Teams from Consol, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and the United Mine Workers of America are working together to save the mine. The fire, which did not result in injuries, began early last week. A crew of 10 who were working underground at the time got out safely.
The mine has been idle since mid-May, when most of its 480 employees were laid off due to a weak coal market.

'Family Fun Night' set at city park

Clarksburg Parks and Recreation is trying to bring local families together for a fun, inexpensive evening, says John Cooper, Parks and Recreation superintendent.
During "Family Fun Night" on Thursday, July 8, at Veterans Memorial Park, the entire family can swim, play miniature golf and listen to a live band for $5.
Swimming will be offered from 7-8:30 p.m.; miniature golf from 7-10 p.m., and Sweet Country, a local country-western band will perform from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Fireplace Shelter.
"We are doing it to encourage families to do something together," said Cooper. "In this day and age, both parents work. We are providing an opportunity for families to come out and enjoy our facilities and hope they have a good time. That is what we are here for."

Governor names general counsel

CHARLESTON (AP) -- The Underwood administration has a new general counsel. Edward P. Tiffey will replace Patrick Kelly, who is leaving to return to private practice, Gov. Cecil Underwood's office announced Monday.
Tiffey, 33, will become Underwood's lead lawyer on Thursday.
Tiffey, 33, He joined the administration in January as associate general counsel.
is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.
Tiffey served as special prosecutor in Greenbrier County in 1998 and was a law clerk from 1990 to 1992 for U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth V. Hallanan in Beckley.

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