County Commission holds legislative summit
Jefferson County Commission met with four legislators representing the county on Thursday to discuss several items in hopes of garnering support in the legislature.
Delegates Jill Upson, R-Jefferson and Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson were in attendance along with State Senators, John Unger, D-Berkeley and Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.
Concern for the budget deficit while addressing budgetary needs was a prevalent undercurrent as commissioners addressed the legislators.
Patsy Noland made a request for a change in legislation regarding the requirements of the Public Service Commission. When projects are submitted to the PSC, they need to have the Public Service District’s or utilities’ full engineering report done and paid for up front before knowing if the PSC is going to approve the project. Nolan said she would like that changed to just a preliminary rather than a full report. Espinosa agreed, saying that he did sponsor legislation last session to address this issue.
“The legislation I sponsored was to address very thing you (Tabb) brought up– the ratepayers are put at considerable risk of those stranded costs. It’s not my intention to get involved in the merits of projects, but simply to allow the PSC to make decisions earlier in the process using preliminary engineering analysis at a fraction of the cost of the final engineering. The last project that was submitted here locally that was not approved resulted in over a $2 million worth of stranded costs to ratepayers.”
Espinosa pledged to continue working on the legislation, saying “A big thrust of a lot of the regulatory reform that we began to enact last session was really aimed at trying to make West Virginia competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. While our approval process is somewhat different than surrounding states, virtually none of the surrounding states require full engineering studies with these types of projects. We want to enact good, common sense reform that prevents this from happening again.”
Jane Tabb brought up the concern of a diminishing police force in the Sheriff’s office and the West Virginia State Police force, saying, “It’s my understanding that we’re down to about five state troopers and two of them are more management than on the road and there’s no night coverage. We used to have 12 or 14 at one time. I understand that you all (legislators) have to make tough decisions with the budget, but my understanding by the constitution is that it (public safety) is a state responsibility. People want to know why we have an ambulance fee. Part of that is because over 50 percent of our budget goes to public safety. That includes a sheriff who wants more staffing and more cars, the 911 center, Homeland Security, ESA (Emergency Services Agency) and our fire departments. That’s where a lot of our budget is going. We need some help, but I know it’s going to be tough.”
Peter Onoszko, commission president brought up the High Intensity Drug Area (HIDA) designation for Jefferson County, thus stating that an argument could be made that Jefferson County “ought to be getting more than its fair share” given the critical drug situation here.
Commissioners and legislators discussed at length possible solutions, including implementing a locality pay increase, but it remains to be seen what will be accomplished in legislative sessions.