News for September 17, 1999
Clarksburg Council moves forward on tax incentive plan
by Paul Leakan
Despite some disagreement over the fairness of the plan, a majority
of Clarksburg City Council members gave their first approval Thursday of
an ordinance that would give certain new businesses special tax breaks.
Council voted 5-2 in support of the ordinance during its first of two
readings, with Councilwomen Kathryn Folio and Margaret Bailey both voting
Councilman Jim Hunt urged local businesses to get a copy of the ordinance
and contact him to discuss any issues they may have with it.
"If there's something in here that we're not seeing than I'd like to
hear about it," said Hunt, who believes the deal would prove to be beneficial
to the city in the long term.
Some local businesses owners who have been located in the city for
years believe the plan is akin to a slap in the face because it only grants
tax breaks for new businesses.
"There's not been a study to show that giving these incentives will
bring in more businesses," said Tim LeFevre, owner of nine Dairy Queen
stores in West Virginia, including one in Clarksburg. "It's basically a
big waste of money."
LeFevre believes the city needs to help existing businesses more, especially
because they have been paying the city business and occupation taxes for
City officials, however, point out that all cities are limited in the
type of tax incentive they can grant to existing businesses.
According to state tax codes, municipalities are only allowed to develop
tax incentives for new or expanding businesses, said Jeff Mikorski, Clarksburg's
director of community and economic development.
"We have to follow the rules of the state," Mikorski said.
Council will consider the second and final reading of the ordinance
during its next regular session on Oct. 7.
If passed, the ordinance would offer any person who locates or has
located a new business in certain areas of the city after May 1, 1999,
special reductions on business and occupation taxes depending on the amount
of new jobs that are created over a specified period of time.
In order to qualify for the deal, the new businesses would have to
move into either the central business district, business and technology
center, Glen Elk areas or any heavy industrial zone -- areas that are designated
and defined by the city.
In addition, the businesses must not have been located in the city
in the previous 10 years and must provide copies of payrolls certified
as "true and accurate" to the city.
Officials assure parents that school is safe
by Shawn Gainer
SHINNSTON -- Citing media coverage that has "put the school in a bad
light," Principal Richard Nichols and an environmental consultant tried
to allay concerns about moisture, mold and mildew in Big Elm Elementary
School at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting Thursday night. However,
it was a hard sell to a large crowd of parents, many of whom say their
children have severe respiratory problems when they attend classes.
John Keeling of MSES Consultants, a Clarksburg firm that was first
contracted by the Harrison County Board of Education to conduct tests at
the school in 1998, said there were no identifiable health hazards in the
7-year-old building. While the building had higher-than-normal humidity
levels at that time, Keeling said the installation of footer drains, the
application of spray sealant around the foundation and the dry summer have
eliminated moisture problems. He added that further help will come from
a groundwater diversion ditch scheduled to be placed behind the school
Many parents are concerned that moisture in the building is contributing
to the growth of mold and fungus that can be respiratory irritants.
"Now most of the groundwater testing points around the foundation show
no water," Keeling said. "Early this week we were asked to look at humidity
levels in the building and they ranged from the mid thirties to upper fifties
(percent). Ideal humidity levels do not exceed the mid sixties."
Keeling also said a discolored, apparently moldy ceiling tile that
was photographed by a Polaroid camera and shown on newscasts was caused
by a roof leak. He said five or six tiles were removed and that it was
not a health hazard in itself.
Parents burdened by long lists of medical bills and prescriptions for
their children gave Keeling and Nichols a chilly reception.
Sandra Dance displayed several bottles of medication, inhalers and
breathing treatment devices prescribed for her daughter.
"Misty has been hospitalized. She has missed 40 days of school in the
past two years," Dance said. "She is on antibiotics eight months of the
year. Can you guess what eight months they are?"
Many parents said they are skeptical of assertions that the school
is safe because their children are much healthier when they are away from
the building. Dance said her daughter only had asthma attacks once or twice
a year before she began attending school at Big Elm.
"Matt had to be taken to the hospital after the first week of school,"
Jean Williams said of her son who is a fourth grade student at Big Elm.
"He's had two asthma attacks since then and they both started when he entered
the school building.
"I know he has asthma, but can you tell me why a child goes to school,
gets sick, comes home for a while then has attacks when he goes back to
Keeling said no specific health hazards have been identified at the
school but went on to say:
"That's not to say there isn't something here that some people are
more susceptible to than others."
Respiratory problems have also been been documented among employees
at the school during times of high moisture, but tests for environmental
hazards, conducted by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
personnel are still pending, said Bill White, a regional representative
for the West Virginia Education Association.
"They want to conduct further tests when moisture levels are closer
to normal," White said. "What we're looking for is to have them tell us
if there's a serious problem in the building. Quite frankly, we don't know
Residents worry about relatives braving hurricane down South
by Paul Leakan
Bud Hartzell, 66, has seen plenty of footage of Hurricane Floyd on
television -- the trees bending, the rising waters lashing the coastline,
the ferocious winds peeling away rooftops.
The destruction has provided more than enough good reason for Hartzell
to worry about his grandson Scott, a Bridgeport High School graduate now
living in Greensboro, N.C.
"I've been watching it all the time, where it's supposed to hit, where
it hit and where all the damage is," said Hartzell, a Bridgeport resident.
"You're worried about the hurricane-force winds. You never know what's
going to happen."
Hartzell isn't the only one in West Virginia with those fears. He and
others have been trying to check on their relatives down South, sometimes
Mildred Menendez of Spelter has been trying to contact her brothers
and her brother-in-law.
Menendez's brother-in-law, Wayne, said he was far enough inland to
avoid most of the hurricane's destructive forces.
"It was pretty scary for a while," he said, describing the storm during
a telephone interview Thursday from his hotel in South Charleston, S.C.
"Last night, we had gusts up to 80 to 90 miles an hour. I was thinking
that if it blows much harder, something's going to fall apart."
Electric and phone lines are down in several parts of the South, according
to the Associated Press.
And while Wayne Menendez says he is doing fine, Mildred Menendez said
she still hasn't been able to get in touch with her brothers.
She and her family just want to be able to hear their voices and know
that they're all right.
"We've watched more of the Weather Channel in the last few days than
we have in our lives," she said. "We're all wondering if they're OK."
Fortunately for Hartzell, the phone lines are working in Greensboro.
Hartzell's fears were eased on Wednesday after calling his grandson,
who told him the storm was too far away to cause much destruction where
"I felt relieved that he was safe and sound," Hartzell said. "He's
young. He just got married.
"I'm real relieved and pleased that it's gone this way."
Harrison Chamber holds discussion on Y2K
by Gail Marsh
Larry Mazza, regional president of One Valley Bank, told members of
the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that his biggest concern
with Y2K is not with the banking industry.
He is more concerned about the Y2K scams that are taking place by telephone.
"People are calling to say they are from a bank and are doing a Y2K
update. They may ask for the person's account number, their credit card
number or Social Security number, promising to send them a new magnetic
strip for their cards," Mazza said.
"People need to be very careful about giving out such information,"
Mazza, who also serves as the chamber's president, was one of four
speakers at a breakfast panel discussion on Thursday at the new Fairmont
State College facility in Clarksburg. People in health care, public utilities
and computer technology all talked about potential problems when the year
2000 rolls around on Jan. 1.
About 99.6 percent of banks across the country are already Y2K compliant,
with the remainder, about 89 banks, expected to be ready by Sept. 30.
Mazza said he believes most systems will continue to function as expected,
but said it would be a good idea to keep proper banking records, including
statements and deposit slips. He also advised people not to withdraw large
sums of money before year's end.
"The New Year takes place on a weekend, so I plan to withdraw a little
extra cash just as I would any other holiday weekend. Otherwise, you might
have to worry about fire or theft," he said.
Brian Cottrill, with United Hospital Center, told the chamber that
UHC will spend more than $1 million to ensure that all computers and medical
equipment used by the hospital is compliant.
There are backup generators for electricity, a secondary water supply
and all medical equipment has been checked for compliance. The hospital
even has a contingency plan if the phones cease to operate, Cottrill said.
"If pagers malfunction or the phones go out, we'll work with couriers
who will go out into the community to get the people or the supplies we
need," he said.
Cottrill said that Y2K testing will continue through November, but
he believes an adequate backup system is now in place.
"We are doing way more than the average hospital to make sure we are
prepared," he said.
Larry Martino, an engineer with Allegheny Power, said his company has
been working on the Y2K problem since the early 1990s.
Martino said there are currently 300 employees working on Y2K problems
who will spend more than 80,000 hours taking care of any compliance issues
"Like everything, there are no guarantees when you are dealing with
1 1/2 million customers over a 35,000 square-mile range. There may be some
minor problems, but some of those won't even be related to Y2K," he said.
Mark Dehlin, a program manager with the West Virginia High Technology
Consortium, encouraged small business owners to check their own hardware
and software and to talk with their suppliers and their customers about
their efforts to comply.
"If you're doubtful that your software is Y2K compliant or you can't
get a satisfactory answer from a manufacturer about it, it's safer to replace
it ," he said.
Dehlin said it was better to invest money up front that to try to fix
problems later on.
"If you have concerns about your hardware, you can replace your personal
computer system for about $800. It will save you money in the long run,"
Commission seeks aid in prisoner-related costs
by Julie R. Cryser
Assistant Managing Editor
It's bad enough that each year the Harrison County Commission must
sue the state for the money it is owed by the state Department of Corrections,
commissioners say, but it's even worse that county residents must subsidize
state prisoners by about $13 a day per prisoner.
On Thursday, members of the Harrison County Commission approved sending
letters to local senators and representatives, asking that they do all
that they can to "help lessen this burden to the budget of Harrison County
and, ultimately, to our citizens."
The state pays the county $25 per day per prisoner for housing. The
county jail, however, has a per diem rate of $38 per prisoner.
According to the letter, the $13 a day difference "creates a financial
hardship on Harrison County when the state of West Virginia pays less than
any other entity that has prisoners housed in our facility." The federal
government, for instance, reimburses the county in full for federal prisoners
that are kept in the Harrison County Correctional Center.
Steve Canterbury, the executive director of the Regional Jail Authority,
said the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County should be completed
by the spring of 2001. Once completed, the Harrison County Correctional
Center will be closed as a jail and the county will be able to use the
facility for other needs.
When that occurs, this whole situation will be a thing of the past,
Nancy Swecker, director of administration for the Department of Corrections,
said she empathizes with the counties, but there isn't much the DOC can
do because of underfunding. The division typically runs out of money to
pay for storing its inmates in county jails sometime during the year.
Then the county has to sue the state.
The state even provides the documents to file the suit with the court
of claims. The Legislature funds the court of claims, which settles the
lawsuit and pays the county.
Police begin campaign for seat belt use
Officials hope to increase belt use by both adults, children
by James Fisher
Local police agencies are asking motorists to buckle down and buckle
The "Buckle Up West Virginia" campaign, aimed at increasing seat belt
use in the state, is in full swing. State officials were in the area at
the beginning of August to determine how many motorists and passengers
are wearing seat belts, said Clarksburg Police Capt. Ron Williams.
Now it is up to the individual departments to increase the percentage
of seat belt use by October.
Last October, between 66 percent to 76 percent of drivers wore seat
belts, Williams said. In the county, 71 percent of people wore belts, said
Harrison County Sheriff Chief Deputy Gary Wine. Bridgeport Police Chief
Jack Clayton said he did not have any numbers from last year's program.
Williams was unsure of Clarksburg's increase last year, but said the
city ranked in the top 25 of all cities in the state. The county had the
second-highest increase, about 39 percent, in the state, Wine said. Only
Lewis County recorded a higher increase.
"They started a little higher than us and they finished a little higher
than us," Wine said.
Wine said the state officials count how many people are wearing seat
belts twice during the campaign -- once in August and once in October.
"They'll pick a place like at a light, where cars have to stop or are
moving slowly, and where they can see into the cars," he said.
"They can't count every car, so they look at every fifth car or every
Wine said 100 cars are counted, and the percentage of usage is tabulated.
Police say the campaign increases awareness of seat belt usage, which
can have the net effect of saving lives. And encouraging adults to use
seat belts trickles down into the younger generation.
"Like anything else, kids see their parents doing it or not doing it
and they will mimic them," Williams said. "If kids see their parents wearing
seat belts, they're more likely to wear them."
Wine said a seat belt violation by an adult is a secondary violation,
meaning an officer can only cite the person if a traffic stop is made for
another reason. However, a child not being restrained is a primary violation.
"This -- especially child seat belt safety -- is something that is
first and foremost in our people's minds all the time," Wine said. "My
intention (for the campaign) this year is to appeal to the public's intelligence,
understanding and pride."
Clayton is encouraging his officers to look more closely for seat belt
"We've made an emphasis to start looking a little more strongly at
both adult and child restraint," he said. "I have emphasized to our officers
to be more alert."
Aside from the obvious aspect of saving lives, departments also are
in competition. Having the highest usage or percentage increase gives a
department bragging rights across the state -- as well as fabulous prizes.
"There are categories for different size departments and whoever has
the highest increase can get either a laser gun, radar gun or PBT (portable
breath tester), free of charge," Williams said.
Two people taken to hospital following head-on collision downtown
by James Fisher
After colliding head-on with another car in a curve in front of 519
Chestnut St. Thursday morning, Melissa Whitehair watched helplessly from
the sidewalk as her car rolled backward down the hill and slammed into
a utility pole.
The force of the second impact shattered the rear glass and crumpled
the back of her Ford Aspire, which already had heavy front-end damage.
Clarksburg Police Sgt. Bil McGahan said a Dodge 600 SE driven by Roy
Morgan of Clarksburg collided with Whitehair's Ford about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Witnesses told McGahan that Morgan's vehicle slid through a right-hand
turn and hit Whitehair's car head-on.
"He was going fast enough that he kind of hydroplaned in the curve,
went left of center and hit her," McGahan said. "She jumped out of the
car onto the sidewalk and the car drifted down into the pole. He kind of
slowly drove down next to her car and stopped across from it."
Whitehair's car rolled about 150 feet down the hill and stopped across
from 532 Chestnut St.
Both Morgan and Whitehair were transported for treatment, according
to emergency personnel on the scene.
Whitehair was still being evaluated at United Hospital Center late
Thursday afternoon and was considered in stable condition, said Suzanne
Hornor, hospital spokeswoman.
Hornor said the hospital had no record of Morgan. Ruby Memorial Hospital
in Morgantown also had no record of Morgan.
Whitehair's cousin, Kimberly Meadows, surveyed the scene as Whitehair
was being loaded into the ambulance.
"I was the first one she called," Meadows said. "All I could hear was
her screaming about something. I didn't even know who it was at first."
Whitehair asked Meadows to call her father, but Meadows said she was
unsure how to contact him.
"Luckily we passed him on the way here," Meadows said. "He was going
to the grocery store and we stopped and told him about the accident."
Traffic was backed up in the both lanes of Chestnut Street for about
an hour after the accident.
Local and area news in brief
City honored for revitalization efforts
The City of Clarksburg was recently given an award by the West Virginia
Municipal League for its commitment to revitalization projects in the Glen
Elk area, including efforts to improve streets, sidewalks and lighting.
The Municipal League formally recognized the city's efforts by giving
city officials a plaque. The plaque now hangs in the city manager's conference
room on the second floor of the Municipal Building on 222 West Main St.
The award marks the third straight year that the city has been recognized
by the Municipal League. Previously, the city was awarded for its vehicle
maintenance program and its development of a website on the Internet.
Clarksburg teen struck by auto
A 14-year-old boy was taken to United Hospital Center in Clarksburg about
5:30 p.m. Thursday after he was struck by a vehicle on Milford Street near
the Stealey Park, according to a Clarksburg firefighter.
The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, apparently
ran out in front of the car and was struck, Joe Keough said.
United Hospital Center officials cannot release information about patients
without a name, a spokeswoman said. They also will not release information
about juveniles, she said.
The boy was transported to the hospital by a Harrison County Emergency
Squad ambulance, Keough said.
Keough had no information about the driver of the vehicle or how fast
it was going. He referred all questions to the Clarksburg Police Department.
Clarksburg Police Capt. Ron Williams said Thursday he had no knowledge
of the incident.
Murder trials set in Morgantown
MORGANTOWN (AP) -- A Monongalia County judge says two teen-agers will face
their murder trials this fall as adults.
Nathaniel "Badger" Lewis, 16, is to stand trial Nov. 22. Crystal Thomas-Tonemah,
17, faces a Dec. 6 trial. Circuit Judge Chief Judge Robert B. Stone set
the trial dates during a Wednesday hearing.
Both are charged with first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in
the July shooting death of Alvin Davis, 42, of Morgantown. Davis' body
was found in a city park.
If convicted, the teens could be sentenced to life in prison.
The aggravated robbery charge carries a minimum sentence of 10 years
Contract awarded for Gilmer prison
CHARLESTON (AP) -- The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has awarded a $96.5 million
contract to a New York firm to design and build a medium-security prison
in Gilmer County.
Bell Constructors Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., received the contract, U.S.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office announced Wednesday.
The prison, to be built on 333 acres near Glenville, will house 1,152
medium-security prisoners. An adjacent camp will house 128 minimum-security
prisoners. Both projects are expected to cost about $135 million.
Site preparation will begin before the end of the year, with construction
to begin next summer. The prison is expected to employ 350 people when
completed in 2002.
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