News for Wednesday, June 30, 1999

Businesses over the line

Firms just outside city limits taking advantage of Clarksburg, says Bailey

by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER
Today, Margaret Bailey calls it "the fleecing of Clarksburg": businesses located just outside of the city that are taking advantage of living near the city but are not paying business and occupation taxes or fire service fees.
Soon, Bailey hopes to call the situation just a part of history.
Bailey, who will be sworn in to Clarksburg City Council on Thursday, said she is shocked by how many businesses located just outside of the city have refused to be annexed into the city.
Now, she believes that it's time for city residents to take a stand.
"I'm offended as a citizen of Clarksburg that I can spend my money there (at those businesses) but they're saying, 'Gee whiz, I'm not going to give back,'" she said. "It looks to me like they're fleecing us. It's time for us in Clarksburg to say, 'No more.'"
Bailey cites a recent memo given to the owners of 530 pieces of property located within a one-mile radius of the city.
The memo, which was sent out by the city earlier this year, touted the city's fire and police services and how the city offers those businesses a three-year waiver of business and occupation taxes. The memo also asked how many people would be willing to be annexed into the city.
Of the 180 people who responded to the memo, 170 said "no" to being annexed, while 10 said "maybe."
Some of the businesses and other properties that could be annexed into the city even use the word "Clarksburg" in their name.
Most the businesses that could be annexed into the city are located on or near Old Bridgeport Hill Road, U.S. Route 19 and East View.
Attempts to contact the owners of several of the businesses for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Bailey said on Tuesday that it will be one of her top priorities on council to do what she can to get those businesses into the city.
She believes that city residents should voice their opinions to the businesses that could be annexed,  and tell city officials what action they could take to solve the problem.
Annexing the properties into the city would provide a major boost to the city's budget, said City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
Businesses located in the city pay B&O taxes based on their gross income. The taxes make  up 50 percent of the city's $8 million budget.
Along with home owners, businesses also pay fire services fees based on square footage. The fees generate more than $750,000 annually, or 39 percent of the fire department's budget.
Considering the possible addition of those taxes and fees, Ashcraft believes it's worth it for the city to continue efforts to annex the properties.
"It's a huge undertaking, but we feel it's an effort where we feel like it's at least important to try," he said.
The city will also continue to  contact the owners of the properties and tout the city's services.
"There's no question that we have an advantage over other entities because we're full-time, 24-hours a day, we're paid and  we're very well-trained," Ashcraft said.

Mine tragedy focus of film

1907 Monongah mine disaster a turning point in U.S. history

by Shawn Gainer
STAFF WRITER
A Chicago film crew was in Marion County Tuesday to film a documentary segment about the worst mine disaster in American history.
In December 1907, an explosion in two connected mines in Monongah, a mining community north of Fairmont, killed more than 300 miners and helped begin federal government involvement in coal mine safety, said Mary Boylan, who is producing the film for Towers Productions.
The segment will be part of a History Channel series, "The Wrath  of God," scheduled for broadcast this fall.
"It is striking that it happened all the way back in 1907 and remains the worst mine explosion in the U.S.,'' Boylan said. "The official death count was 361, but a lot of people believe it was actually much higher. It left hundreds of widows and over 1,000 children orphaned. Only one man survived, and it completely devastated the community."
The explosion was particularly shocking because Consolidated Coal Inc.'s No. 6 and No. 8 mines were considered to be very modern at the time, with ventilation fans and electric cutters. Later, the design of the slope mines, which were connected by a back channel, as well their high dust content, were severely criticized, Boylan said.
The Monongah mine disaster  marked a major turning point in American history because it shattered misconceptions about mining operations and began a slow process that led to government regulation of the industry to ensure worker safety, said Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"The Monongah disaster triggered a hearing in Fairmont, and an inquest representative suggested creating a federal agency to deal with mine accidents," McAteer said. "It took a couple of years to pass the legislation,  but eventually the U.S. Bureau of Mines was created."
Although U.S. Bureau of Mines personnel did not have the authority to inspect mines, they did investigate accidents and formulate safety standards that mining companies could adopt voluntarily. They also made an important discovery, McAteer said.
"As a result of investigations, it was established that fine coal dust could explode independently of other substances," he said. "It had been widely believed it would only explode in combination with methane."
He added that reports completed by state investigators and Frank Haas, a Consolidated Coal Co. engineer, concluded that the Monongah explosion was caused by flame from a blasting chute that ignited coal dust in the No. 8 mine. Sparks from rail cars that broke off and rolled backward into the No. 6 mine entrance or an ignited bag of black powder could also have caused dust in the shafts to explode.
The federal government finally established strong regulatory control over coal mining with the passage of the Coal Mine Safety Act in 1969, Boylan said.
The Tower Productions crew sought help from Melody Bartlett, a Fairmont State College student  and Bill Grubb, manager of library services at FSC, in researching the cultural aspects of the Monongah community at the time of the mine disaster.
Bartlett, who is studying in Beijing this summer, spent four months examining back copies of the Fairmont Times, Grubb said.
"It was a very ethnic community. Most of the miners who were killed were from Italy and the Slavic countries," Grubb said. "After the explosion, they buried the Italians on one side of the cemetery and the Slavs on the other."
Although Monongah was unique in its ethnic makeup, its politics were typical for a mining town.  Consolidated Mining Inc. was based in Baltimore, Md., but investors in the mines who lived in Fairmont dominated local politics and retained their power after the disaster, Grubb said.
"The news reports about the disaster were biased. No one wanted to cross the mine owners, who generally got what they wanted," he said.
Ironically, no marker or monument stands at the site of the mine where tragic but powerful history was made.
"People look for the site all the time and can't find it," Grubb said. "It seems to me that it was a major event and it would only be logical to have something there," he added.

Woman seriously injured in I-79 wreck

by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER
A woman was flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital Tuesday afternoon after her car was hit by a truck in the southbound lanes of Interstate 79 near the FBI Road on-ramp.
The woman, who was not identified, was hit broadside while apparently trying to get to an access road between the southbound and northbound lanes of the interstate.
Bridgeport Police Officer J.E. Harbert, who investigated the incident, would not release any information about the woman, including her name, age or hometown. A hospital spokesman said he could not release any  information without having a name.
Harbert said he would have more information about the woman and the accident today. A late-afternoon rainstorm Tuesday hampered the efforts of police to investigate.
A firefighter with the Bridgeport Fire Department who did not want to be identified said the woman's injuries were serious. She was wrapped in an inflatable body cast and had numerous IVs when she was taken from the Bridgeport ambulance and wheeled to the helicopter for the flight to Morgantown.
The driver of the truck that hit the woman's car said she turned in front of him on I-79, apparently trying to cross both lanes and make it to the access road in the median.
The woman was in the right lane when she apparently tried to cross the passing lane to the median.
"She was already sideways in front of me when I hit her," said Terry Corbin, a contractor for C.W. Stickley Inc. of White Hall, who was driving in the passing lane. "There was nothing I could  do."
The woman, driving a Geo compact car, was struck by Corbin's six-wheeled truck about 2 p.m. The force of the impact caved in the driver's side door and sheared off the rear bumper.
The woman's car careened into the median, spun around and came to rest facing the southbound lanes.
Bridgeport police, with assistance from the West Virginia State Police, had to shut down both directions of I-79 for several minutes to allow the helicopter to land.

Inflation still taking big bite out of paychecks

by Julie R. Cryser
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
West Virginians would have earned enough extra money each week in 1998 to purchase three medium-cut ribeye steaks had not inflation  eaten away much of the increase.
The average annual wage paid to all West Virginia workers covered by state and federal unemployment was $25,278 in 1998, a 2.3 percent increase over the 1997 state average, according to data released Monday by the state Bureau of Employment Programs. That factors out to about another $10.82 a week in every average state worker's pocket.
Not included in the average, however, was the national inflation rate. With the 1.6 percent inflation rate of 1998 factored in, West Virginians' purchasing power came out to about an extra $3.22 a week enough to purchase 3 pounds of hamburger.
"It's probably not a great deal, but it is certainly a positive development," said Steve Shackelford, an  analyst with the state Bureau of Employment Programs.
Inflation cut workers' extra purchasing power from about $486 a year to about $167, Shackelford said. But any increase is better than no increase, Shackelford said.
"I characterize it as positive," he said. "I would consider it a positive indicator."
Much of the increase could be pinned to a rise in the federal and state minimum wage, as well as increased wages for people working in service and retail industries, said David Calvert, with the state Bureau of Employment Programs' Research, Information and Analysis Division.
The minimum wage increased from $4.75 an hour to $5.15 an hour in September 1997. The fastest growing sector of West Virginia's economy is in the retail and service industries, known for paying mostly minimum wages. The average wage in the service industry was $22,260, just above agriculture ($17,357) and retail trade ($13,467), which came in as the lowest paying industry.
And in areas like Kanawha County and the Northern and Eastern panhandles, wages in the service and retail industries have increased because of stiff competition for workers, Calvert said.
"It's like everyone is on a ladder," Calvert said. "As people move up to better wages, it creates openings at the bottom."
West Virginians still lag behind the nation in average wages earned. The national average in 1997 was $30,343 and is expected to grow for 1998. If it would stay the same, West Virginia workers would be making about $5,000 less than their national counterparts.
The highest wages earned in West Virginia were in the mining industry, which makes up just 3 percent of the private sector employment in the state. Mining was also the only major employment sector that registered a decline in annual average wages.
Transportation and public utilities had the next highest average wage at $35,162 and tied with the agricultural sector for the largest over-the-year increase in annual wages.
Manufacturing saw an average annual wage of $34,788.
Wholesale trade followed manufacturing at $31,071, then construction, $27,211; government, $26,765; finance, insurance and real estate at $26,721.
The 1998 data was released in Employment and Wages, a publication available from the Bureau of Employment Program's Research, Information and Analysis Division. It can be obtained via the agency's web site at www.state.wv.us/bep.

Underwood  to hand out $4.5 million in grant money

Part of funds for development in seven area cities

by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER
Gov. Cecil Underwood will be in Clarksburg today to hand out $4.5 million in grants, including funds that will go to seven area cities and development authorities.
The ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at the Glen Elk train station, a site that symbolizes the use of grant money for revitalization, Underwood officials said.
Clarksburg city officials have used $400,000 in grant money to kick off a revitalization project in the downtrodden neighborhood, which was once one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in town. The city will receive another $319,000 today, which it will match with $72,000, said City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
"What it shows is we're putting the money to good use," he said.
The grants, which consist of federal money that the state administers, can bring significant improvements to local communities, said Rod Blackstone, a spokesman for the governor.
"These grants help make the communities more attractive, literally, to tourists and businesses," he said.
The largest amount of money going to a local agency will go to the Randolph County Development Authority. The authority will use $400,000 to continue the restoration of the Elkins depot, which was built in 1908, and  to build a 1-acre town square, said authority President Jim Schoonover. The town square could become a gathering place for public meetings and farmer's markets, he said.
Salem and Grafton will also receive $40,000 and $320,000 respectively for their depots. The Salem depot will get a new roof with Spanish tile, lighting and  benches, said City Manager Ken Yost. The city will chip in $10,000, he said.
The City of Bridgeport will also receive $77,000 for a bike trail and the Ritchie County Development Authority will get $86,000 to add 20 miles to the North Bend Rail Trail in Wood, Ritchie, Doddridge and Harrison counties.
The City of Philippi will also receive a $1,600 historical preservation grant for the barn on the Adaland Mansion property.

Vandals damage several mailboxes in Bridgeport
by James Fisher
STAFF WRITER
Postal carriers in Bridgeport may have trouble delivering mail today after vandals destroyed several mailboxes and planters on Carriage Lane.
At least 10 mailboxes and several planters were vandalized between 11 p.m. Monday and 6 a.m. Tuesday, said Bridgeport Police Detective Sgt. Carl Springer.
Springer believes the destruction is the work of school-age teens.
"It's the usual thing; kids use baseball bats or something similar and hit the mailboxes, knock over planters and hit paper boxes," he said. "It's probably some kids out of school. They get out of school, get to partying and this stuff happens. We usually see something like this about this time of the year.
Springer said incidents of vandalism like this are nearly impossible to investigate and prosecute.
"They (residents with damaged boxes) can't really do much unless someone in the community saw something, he said. "There's almost a zero percent we'll catch the kids involved. We have to rely on Joe Citizen on the street that may have seen or heard something.
However, teens are notoriously bad at keeping secrets, he said.
"They'll probably talk about it eventually, he said. "They'll tell their friends or be at another party and tell someone.
Although the incidents will be hard for the department to investigate, Springer said destroying mailboxes can be a federal offense if the postal inspector gets involved and can carry severe penalties.

Fireworks allegedly cause blaze
by Jessica Laton
STAFF WRITER
A fire allegedly started by an 11-year-old boy playing with fireworks ended with the death of a family pet and the near destruction of the home.
Nutter Fort police and fire departments were called to 604 Pennsylvania Ave. at 11:08 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"When we originally pulled up, there was light smoke coming from the lower part of the house," said Nutter Fort Police Chief R.W. Godwin, who was first on the scene Tuesday, followed by Officer Mike Weiss. "We were going to enter to try to get the dog, but fire shot from out of the window and we decided it wasn't safe."
The fire started in the boy's bedroom on the main floor of the house owned by Gail and Lisa Scheuvront, said Nutter Fort Fire Chief Tom Rohrbough. Rohrbough estimated damage to the house at about $30,000.
"There was smoke rolling out the window," said Josh Maxwell, of the Stonewood Fire Department. "Slowly, as the fire kept burning, it made its way upstairs."
Anmoore, Nutter Fort and Stonewood fire departments were on the scene.
The fire was contained to a bedroom, hallway and kitchen, but there was smoke and heat damage through the rest of the house, said Rohrbough.
Everyone made it out of the house except for the family cat and dog. The cat survived, but after CPR attempts, the dog died.
Eyewitnesses say that smoke alerted them to the fire.
"I came out on the porch for  something and saw smoke," said Virginia Hicks, a neighbor. "My first thought was I was anxious to see if they got all the children out."
Neighbor Marge Saunders said that the owners have just remodeled the house. The Scheuvronts would not discuss the fire Tuesday.
"They are good loving people, I know that," said Saunders.
Land tax proposed by critic of Underwood plan
The Associated Press
CHARLESTON A tax overhaul by Gov. Cecil Underwood generated more criticism Tuesday.
An economist and former West Virginian released a report that calls on state officials to impose a tax on land, while dropping personal property taxes on vehicles, business inventories, machinery and equipment.
"If West Virginia goes the way it's going, it could be bad news," said Walter Rybeck, an economist and founder of the 16-year-old Center for Public Dialogue in Kensington, Md.
His report, "The Tax Reform West Virginia Needs for the Next Century," says land taxes cannot reduce the supply of land, is a fairer system because the poor own less land than those who are better off and would not raise prices. It is different from traditional property taxes, which assess improvements such as homes and businesses.
Tax Secretary Robin Capehart said large amounts of undevelopable land "would probably generate significant increases in property taxes for homeowners and businesses."
In addition, increases in property taxes due to reappraisals have drawn strong criticism, Capehart said. "If you raise property taxes, even if you eliminate others, there would be serious political consequences," Capehart said.
Underwood last year unveiled a tax overhaul proposal that awaits action by the Legislature. Dan Page, chief spokesman for the governor, said Underwood and leaders of the Legislature are discussing when to schedule a special legislative session this year to act on the proposal.
Rybeck, a former Wheeling resident, has been at least the third critic of Underwood's tax proposals. The Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, a Charleston union group, and an accountant for lawyers have criticized portions of the plan.

Local and area briefs

Bridgeport City Council approves 5-year budget

Bridgeport City Council officials approved a 5-year capital budget that will be used to purchase police vehicles, tractors, dump trucks and other city equipment, at the council meeting Monday night.
  Kim Haws, Bridgeport city manager, said that the approval was good for the city.
"It forced us to plan 5 years in advance for future needs," said Haws.
The council also approved a new code to enforce a recently passed state law that requires residents to hook into the city sewer system as it expands. The council also voted on and approved the annexation of Timberbrook subdivision, just south of city  limits. The county commission approved the request Tuesday morning.
Before swearing in the new council members, council accepted a resignation from Walter Barth, who was elected as a new council member, from the planning commission and appointed Robert Green to the position. New members sworn in are Mike Conley, Walter Barth and Chuck Lindsey.

Doddridge County road closed for to correct slide

Straight Fork, Doddridge County Route 52/3, will be closed from 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. July 5-12 to correct a slide.
Alternate routes that may be taken are Doddridge County Routes 22/3, 7/18, 52, US 19, Doddridge County Routes 19/11, 21, 50/30 and US 50. The slide correction is located between Doddridge County 19/10 and Ritchie County 22/3 at mile post 2.26.

W.Va. exports grow $600 million in 5-year span

MORGANTOWN (AP) West Virginia exports to foreign markets grew $600 million between 1992 and 1997, with coal and chemicals continuing to make up the bulk of those goods, West Virginia University researchers said Tuesday.
A new report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research shows exports totaled $2.5 billion in 1997, up from $1.9 billion in 1992.
Chemicals accounted for $948 million in 1997, while coal was a close second at $940 million. Primary metals were the third-largest export product with $280 million in sales.
But metal shipments grew faster than either coal or chemicals, expanding by about $11.3 million in the five-year period, the report said. Stone, clay and glass exports increased by $10.4 million in the same time frame.
Canada continues to the single largest receiver of West Virginia products, followed by Belgium.

Harrison County woman admits to farm-loan fraud

CLARKSBURG (AP) A Harrison County woman who approved fraudulent loans from the federal Farm Service Agency in July 1996 has pleaded guilty.
Ruth Farrell of Lost Creek confessed Monday in U.S. District Court to creating a fake $25,916 receipt for the sale of farm equipment and livestock to support a loan she knew would be used for other purposes.
Prosecutors say Farrell and Farm Service Agency co-worker Paul Allen Weese deliberately approved fraudulent loans between the fall of 1994 and January 1997. Together with seven other suspects, they allegedly defrauded the agency of more than $1 million.


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