Council OKs 600 new residents
The Shepherdstown Town Council, meeting before a packed house in special session, voted four-to-two to approve the annexation of the 11 dormitories on Shepherd University’s West Campus last Tuesday.
The measure now goes to the County Commission for a procedural approval by “ministerial act”. According to County Commissioner Jim Surkamp, approval is all but guaranteed, as the County Commission has no legal mechanism to overturn an annexation within the urban growth boundary of a municipality.
The vote followed an hour and a half of heated debate and public comment in front of a standing-room-only crowd of over 40 members of the public at the Shepherdstown Men’s Club at German and King streets.
Proponents of the annexation emphasized the financial necessity of annexing the dorms, noting that the residential growth of Charles Town and Ranson coupled with the lack of growth of Shepherdstown threaten to strip $150,000 per year from Shepherdstown’s video lottery tax revenue over the next decade if Shepherdstown does not increase it’s population by roughly 600. Video lottery tax revenue is divided between the five municipalities of Jefferson County based on population.
Opponents of the annexation criticized the plan as a money grab which would leave year-round residents of Shepherdstown outnumbered by transitory university students with differing interests in municipal politics.
At one point, in response to a query from Councilman Stuart Wallace, a visible majority of the general public attending the meeting raised their hands to identify themselves as opponents of the annexation.
Wallace pointed out to the other Council members that the majority of town residents appear to be against the annexation, and urged the council to search for other solutions to the town’s fiscal problems. An outburst of applause from annexation opponents followed his comments.
Councilman Jim Ford said that if Shepherdstown wants to survive as a municipality, then the annexation must be approved. Jim Ford presented the annexation as a choice between dealing with a larger student electorate, or cutting back on city services within the next five years. Ford also raised the specter that, if municipal expenses keep rising, Shepherdstown could lose its self-government to un-incorporation.
According to Ford, the residents of Shepherdstown need to face an uncomfortable fact: Shepherdstown needs to grow if it is to survive.
“No one wants this town to change, and that includes the Town Council,” said Ford, after the meeting. “But this town has to grow until we develop a better tax base.”
Voting for the annexation were council members Wanda Grantham-Smith, Lori Robertson, Howard Mills and Jim Ford.
Voting against the annexation were councilmen Stuart Wallace and Thomas Martin, who had previously voted twice, in the Finance Committee and in last week’s Town Council meeting, to approve the annexation.
Sonya Evanisko, a prominent member of the loose-knit annexation opposition movement, criticized the vote, asserting that it usurped the opinion of the residents of town.
“Our Town Council members did not respect the voices of the numerous residents who voiced their opposition here,” said Evanisko, after the meeting.