News for October 28, 1999

Formal protest filed against Water Board's rate hike

by Paul Leakan
Staff Writer
Officials from the City of Bridgeport filed a formal protest of the Clarksburg Water Board's recent 15.9 percent water rate hike Wednesday along with five towns and public service districts who purchase water from the board.
 The Town of Anmoore, the City of Stonewood, the Greater Harrison County Public Service District, the Short Line Public Service District and the Sun Valley Public Service District all joined in with Bridgeport's protest, said Bridgeport City Manager A. Kim Haws.
"I think that without a question, most of these users feel a rate increase is probably justified," Haws said. "But a 15 percent increase without some justification is not justified.
"We weren't given much time to investigate the various concerns that we have," he added. "Thirty days is not enough time to look into these things. So we had no choice but to file it and move forward with an investigation."
Patsy Trecost, general manager of the board, said he wasn't surprised by the joint protest.
"We knew they were going to file," he said.
Today is the last day to file a protest of the increased water rates to the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
Haws said the joint protest was filed on the following grounds:
n The proposed increase in rates and charges are unjust, unreasonable and are applied with unjust discrimination and preference.
n The group that is filing the protest represents more than 25 of the Clarksburg Water Board's purchaser customers; they represent more than 25 percent of the board's total revenues and they represent more than 25 percent of the total number of customers directly or indirectly served by the board.
Among other things, the petition also indicates a need for the PSC to perform an audit of the water board's management practices and policies.
Sometime within the next few weeks, the PSC will send an attorney, accountant and an engineer to conduct an independent rate study at the water board.
At that point, the rate increases would be delayed, said Sam Minardi, public information specialist with the PSC.
Once the investigation is done, PSC officials will make a recommendation on what the rates should be.
Trecost said he's confident the PSC will determine that the increased rates are justified.
"I'm not confident that it won't go up," he said. "I hope it doesn't go up. We went for what we need, and I hope it stays that way."
Trecost said the entire process should be completed within the next 120 days.
Trecost also said the delay in raising rates will cost the water board an estimated $200,000 -- money that it would have received if the rates went into effect as scheduled.
Board members chose to raise consumer water rates in late September, voting 2-1 in support of the plan.
The rate increase will help cover a $400,000 operating deficit and help pay for a $2.1 million loan that will be used to replace an 89-year-old water tank on Chestnut Street in Clarksburg.

Neighbor: Children's parents unemotional after fatal fire

by Vicki Smith
The Associated Press
CHARLESTON -- Seconds before his smoking house erupted in flames on Nov. 21, 1997, Ricky Lee Brown said everyone had gotten out safely, a neighbor testified Wednesday.
Wavah Blake found out otherwise moments later, when bystanders told her the five children who lived in the Weston house were still trapped inside.
All of those children died, but Brown and four other adults escaped without injury. The children's parents then stood around talking and smoking, apparently unemotional as the house burned, Blake said.
"I said to Ricky, 'Is everybody out?' And he said, 'Yes, everybody's out,"' she said, recalling the minutes after she was shaken awake that morning. Blake stood on the porch watching the smoke, then went back inside to change out of her pajamas.
"He'd already said everybody was out and it was Friday, so I thought about it being a school day. So I never even thought about the kids being in there," she said.
The children, ages 3 to 10, were home because school was closed for a faculty in-service day. Prosecutors say Brown, his wife, Barbara, and housemate Janette Ables deliberately killed them, torching the house to cash in on $61,449 in home and life insurance policies.
The defense contends the fire was an accident caused by the youngest child, who lit up a mattress while playing with matches. Brown has told investigators he tried to douse the flames with pans of water but fled when he realized his efforts were futile.
Ricky Brown is the first of the three parents to stand trial in U.S. District Court. If convicted on one of the 15 federal charges against him, arson causing death and affecting interstate commerce, he could be sentenced to death.
Ten prosecution witnesses testified Wednesday, offering statements about the parents' conduct after the fire.
Teresa James, a passer-by, described Ables and the Browns as "emotionless."
"They didn't respond to what was going on. I was crying and upset, and they didn't even seem to be like parents to those kids," she said, wiping away tears.
Duane Pinkney, who lived next door to the Browns with his wife, Sharon, said Ricky Brown was "not real frantic."
"They were pretty calm, really," he said.
Pinkney discovered a gas can he had never seen before in his yard during the fire and found its presence odd. The day after the fire, he said Brown asked if he knew where it was. He did not.
The Pinkneys opened their home to Ables and the Browns during the fire, providing coffee, shelter from the cold drizzle and a place for investigators to interview the parents. At some point, Ables changed clothes, Mrs. Pinkney testified.
About three weeks later, cleaning off the pile of blankets on her porch, Mrs. Pinkney found a plastic grocery bag with Ables' clothes still inside. When she untied it, the contents smelled like gasoline, she testified.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer J.T. McCamic, Mrs. Pinkney said she'd had ongoing troubles with her neighbors and thought they were bad parents. The children wandered around unsupervised late at night and often were not dressed for the weather, she said.
Mrs. Pinkney called police about noise, traffic and other problems at the Brown house five to 10 times. She reported unsanitary conditions to the health department twice. She called environmental officials to complain about car oil running down the driveway. And she reported suspected neglect to child-welfare workers once.
"Would it be fair to say you didn't approve of the Browns?" McCamic said.
"In relation to parenting, that's correct," she responded.
Jurors also heard Wednesday from Michael Starett and Jason Slaughter, Lewis County construction workers who tried to rescue the children. They had been working across the street when the fire began and decided to enter the burning house after Brown told them children were inside.
"Before we went in, I told Jason, 'This is probably one of the most dangerous things we're going to do. Don't leave me and I won't leave you,"' Starett said.
The men made it partway into a rear storage room, shouting for the children, before they were turned back by heat and smoke, he testified.
Both men said Brown did not enter the house with them, but the defense lawyer focused on inconsistencies in the details between Slaughter's account and Starett's, including which man went in first and whether Brown entered the garage or stayed outside.

Healthcare for children of uninsured topic of public forum

by Gail Marsh
Staff writer
A public forum will be held today at 6:30 p.m. at the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library to discuss the direction the state should take to provide health care for the 250,000 children and adults who do not have health insurance.
The discussion is the last of 11 forums that have been held around the state during the last two months, sponsored by the West Virginia Healthy Kids' Coalition, the West Virginia Center for Civic Life and other local organizations.  Tonight's meeting is sponsored by the North Central Regional C.H.I.P. Outreach Project, the Marion County Family Resource Network and Marion County's Promise organization.
"We want to hear what the public has to say about how we can best cover not only children, but everyone, with adequate health insurance," said Janet Cunningham, West Virginia Children's Health Insurance Program (C.H.I.P.) coordinator for Marion, Monongalia, Harrison and Taylor counties.
Cunningham said the West Virginia C.H.I.P. program, which the state began in 1998, offers health insurance to the state's uninsured children ages 1-18, with more than 7,000 children signed up so far.
 In Harrison County, about 250 children participate in the program that offers free coverage to children whose parents don't have coverage at work or don't make enough money to pay for coverage.
"The C.H.I.P program is working well, but we're concerned about the parents of those children. They need access to health insurance, also," Cunningham said.
Renate Pore, with the West Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition, will moderate the meeting. Pore will discuss the following four options that the state is considering to help the uninsured or underinsured to get health coverage:
n Shore up employer-based coverage. This option would offer more incentives to employers to provide insurance and prevent public coverage from crowding out employer-based plans.
n  Expand public coverage for children. Because it is in the public interest to have healthy children, this option would not let coverage hinge on the insurance status of their parents.
n Expand public coverage for adults. An estimated 244,000 state adults are uninsured, most who are working people whose employers offer no coverage. This option would help to cover those adults who find health coverage unaffordable.
n Streamline and coordinate programs. More needs to be done to help eligible people get and stay insured. For example, many families who are leaving welfare may not realize that their children can continue to be covered under Medicaid or the C.H.I.P. program.
For more information on the meeting, people can reach Cunningham at 366-4445.

Salvation Army mobilizes for big holiday season

by Gail Marsh
Staff Writer
With the holiday season just around the corner, the local Salvation Army is gearing up to once again offer meals, clothing, toys and more to area families who are in need.
Capt. Ed Long and his wife, Capt. Goldie Long, oversee the Salvation Army Community Center on South Chestnut Street. Long said the organization is currently taking applications for a number of holiday programs.
"We're able to offer all the help that we do because the people of Harrison County are extremely generous," Long said.
From now through Nov. 5, eligible families can sign up for a free Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas food basket, the Angel Tree program or to work as bell ringers for the Salvation Army's Christmas kettle program. Eligibility is determined by monthly income and the number of members in the household, Long said.
"Last year we served more than 700 families, and I don't think we turned down anyone who applied," Long said.
For the second year in a row, the Salvation Army will be working with The Canteen Restaurant on Milford Street, which has agreed to serve a Thanksgiving meal to needy families. Last year 70 people ate a traditional meal at the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day, Long said.
"This arrangement has worked out well for us. It takes the preparation out of our hands, and we are able to go down and help some with the cleanup," Long said.
Along with Christmas food baskets, the Angel Tree program is one of the most popular programs the Salvation Army offers. Long said his group will be placing the trees in businesses throughout the city with the names, ages and wishes of the children listed on small Christmas tags.
"People or organizations who pick a tag can choose to go by the suggestions on the tag or buy other things they think are appropriate. We encourage people to buy clothing because our organization makes sure that the children get toys," he said.
Long said it's not unusual for local businesses, clubs and other organizations in the area to choose a large number of Christmas angels.
Groups can also come by the South Chestnut Street center to pick up Christmas stockings, fill them and bring them back to be included with the Angel Tree gifts.
Last year, more than 700 children and their families were served.
"We put all the gifts in the gymnasium to be sorted, and that place was literally filled up last year," Long said.
Volunteers are needed to work at the red kettles that will be popping up throughout the area by the end of November.
The Salvation Army is taking applications for any volunteers or groups who want to help or for anyone who would like a seasonal job.
Along with the volunteers, the organization usually hires between 20-30 people to ring the bells.
The Salvation Army is open on Monday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and on Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
For more information about the application process or volunteer opportunities, people can call Long at 622-2360.

St. Mary's School seeks volunteers for tutoring

by Shawn Gainer
Staff Writer
Administrators at St. Mary's School are looking for volunteers to tutor children one-on-one.
The goal of the Volunteer Instruction Program is to help younger students who have needs in basic skills such as math, reading and penmanship. Volunteers do not have to have a college degree to participate, said Principal Robert Brumage.
"You don't have to have a degree to be able to help students with handwriting and basic math," Brumage said. "Individual attention for an extra 15 to 20 minutes a day or even every three days can make a big difference."
Like many other schools in Harrison County, St. Mary's receives assistance for students with needs through the federal Title I program. However, Brumage said he feels it is important to do everything possible to ensure that young students have a solid background in basic skills.
"We realize that we need new methods. Kids are coming from a different culture than we did and their needs are so much greater," he said.
"We want to improve on what we already have."
Many parents have little time to devote to helping their children with school work, and it is important to address academic problems early, he added.
"Kids don't always come into school prepared," he said. "If we don't get them ready in kindergarten and first grade, they struggle after that."
Volunteers would be assigned to specific classrooms and students, and would work with them at least one hour per week.
"Their reward is knowing that they are participating in the education of children," Brumage said.
"The VIP gives them the opportunity to visit our school and see the good things that we have going on here," Brumage said.
"We have many parent volunteers but they can't come here during the school day due to work commitments."

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