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Mountain Messenger, Saturday, July 11, 2009

Local telephone calls in Virginia’s seven area code zones are local.  The West Virginia Public Service Commission ignored citizen comment and common sense.  It created a two-area code overlay.  Now, we have to dial long distance to call our neighbors.  The WV PSC gave Appalachian Power a 17% rate increase last fall and is now considering another 48% increase.

The three Public Service Commissioners have dictatorial authority over the other two million of us Mountaineers.

This three-some reminds me of the Russian three-horse sleigh called the troika.   The “master” driver sits at the front of the sleigh and holds the middle horse’s reins.   Two back seat drivers guide the outside horses.

The middle horse, the “leader,” must trot slowly and steadily while the two outside horses gallop.  The sleigh moves forward only when all three drivers work together.

The Greenbrier County Commission is another three-some.  It worked well during the 1990’s but those halcyon days are gone.  The Greenbrier County Commission, like the Public Service Commission, is functioning like an out-of-control troika.

Consider a recent Greenbrier County Commission meeting, aired on Channel 5.

The Honorable Debbie Fogus, elected to represent the 2,500 citizens of White Sulphur Springs, appeared before the County Commission for pro forma approval for bond preparation as last step toward financing the Village’s sewer project.

White Sulphur Springs supplies water and sewer services to its citizens and to The Greenbrier and to the Greenbrier Sporting Club homes.

The Village’s utilities are antiquated, as are those in Ronceverte and Alderson and Rupert and Rainelle.   The WV Department of Environmental Protection has fined the village about $300,000 because of its inadequate sewer system.  White Sulphur Springs has already spent about $50,000 in attorney fees to contest more DEP fines.

Upgrading White Sulphur Springs utilities will cost tens of million of dollars.  For at least eight years, they have chased down every possible source of funding.  They have borrowed a million dollars and raised rates twice.

The West Virginia legislature created Tax Incentive Financing, TIF, to allow places like White Sulphur Springs to borrow money for infrastructure projects.   The legislature required counties to sell the bonds for small places like White Sulphur Springs.

The Greenbrier County Commission created the White Sulphur Springs TIF six years ago.  The White Sulphur Springs TIF fund has grown to $6 million.  It adds about $2 million every year.

Greenbrier County Commissioners Lowell Rose, Betty D. Crookshanks and Brad Tuckwiller signed off on White Sulphur Spring’s sewer project in January 2008.  Two of the county commissioners who signed off on the project last year are still commissioners.

At this recent meeting, Commissioner Tuckwiller moved to approve preparation of bond documents.  Commissioner Crookshanks and Commissioner Lobban voted to delay the project, even at the risk of causing higher costs.

“Today is pushing the deadline for beginning bond documents,” Mayor Fogus to the Commissioners.  Actually, she said, it is probably optimistic to think that bond attorneys can meet the first of August deadline.

Commissioner Lobban was opposed to the county issuing the bonds at all.  Commission President Crookshanks voted to delay the White Sulphur Springs project while she tries to get some of the new “stimulus” money.

“Stimulus money is going to shovel-ready projects that are already in the grant application pipeline,” Commissioner Tuckwiller said.  “White Sulphur Spring’s sewer project is not even in line.  If stimulus money is available later, it can always replace some of the borrowed money.”

Fifty-nine projects are on the West Virginia Clean Water State Revolving Fund Priority List.  Fifty projects are ahead of the White Sulphur Springs # 51 ranked WATER, not SEWER, project.  Greenbrier PSD #1 ranks 4th (failing septic systems) and the City of Ronceverte is #35 (direct discharge).  The FY 2009 budget funds 13 projects statewide – and none are in Greenbrier County.

The Greenbrier County Commission treated Mayor Fogus as if she were a beggar, come with hat in hand to her superiors.  When the Commissioners disrespected Mayor Fogus, they disrespected the 2,500 Greenbrier County citizens who reside in White Sulphur Springs and all the 35,000 citizens of Greenbrier County.

White Sulphur Springs deserves respect.  We all deserve better.