News for September 17, 1999

Clarksburg Council moves forward on tax incentive plan

by Paul Leakan
Staff Writer
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 against it.
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 years.
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
Staff Writer
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 this fall.
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 school again?"
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 yet."

Residents worry about relatives braving hurricane down South

by Paul Leakan
Staff Writer
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 without success.
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 he lives.
"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
Staff Writer
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," he said.
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," he said.

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, he said.
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
Staff Writer
Local police agencies are asking motorists to buckle down and buckle up.
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 third car."
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 violations.
"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
Staff Writer
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 in prison.

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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