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Doyle Report: Gov. commits SU garage support

By Staff | Nov 27, 2009

Gov. Joe Manchin has given his “full support” for construction of a parking garage at Shepherd University.

Sen. Herb Snyder and I met with him on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The three of us were in Charleston, Senator Snyder and I being there for the Legislature’s November interim meetings and a special session. We arranged to talk on the phone with Shepherd’s President, Dr. Suzanne Shipley, and Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer, who was meeting with Dr. Shipley.

The governor told us he was aware of the serious traffic and parking problems in Shepherdstown. He wanted to be assured that the parking garage was the highest priority of both the town and the university. President Shipley and Mayor Auxer assured him that was the case. Governor Manchin then committed his “full support” for funding for the project.

He suggested that passage of table games by the voters of Jefferson County would ease our state’s budget problems considerably, making it easier to find money for this project. The governor made clear there was to be no “quid pro quo” between the parking garage and the passage of the table games referendum. He did, however, point out that passage would make it easier to find money for this and other projects needed around the state. He even suggested a possible tie-in between table games revenue and the garage project.

Under the bill passed this past summer (the “better deal” bill) doubling the percentage of revenue Jefferson County gets from the games, the West Virginia Lottery Commission is to get 1 percent of “gross table revenue” from each of the state’s four racetracks, should Jefferson County voters OK table games. The other three tracks already have table games. This 1 percent is to go to the Lottery Commission for two years. Governor Manchin said that after the two years is up he would support giving half of that one percent to higher education in the county where the racetrack is located.

So, one half of 1 percent of net table revenue from the Charles Town Races could be given to Shepherd as a dedicated revenue source. The university has indicated it would use this money to build a parking garage. Bonds could be sold to build the garage quickly, and the money from table games would be the funding source to pay the debt service on the bonds.

The governor was careful to point out that we would have to examine the state’s fiscal condition in January 2011 to determine whether this route was feasible. If it isn’t, he committed to help Senator Snyder and I find another source for money for the garage.

The Higher Education Policy Commission has a rule, endorsed by the Legislature, that state money for higher education capital improvements cannot be used for “auxiliary” buildings (parking garages, stadiums, arenas, dormitories, cafeterias, etc.). That’s why it’s been so difficult finding a funding source for this project. Governor Manchin’s support will be invaluable in our search for funds.

Should we go with the plan outlined above, we would make the required change in state law during the 2011 regular session of the Legislature. We would not do it in the upcoming 2010 session because we need to wait and see what the state’s finances look like a little over a year from now. Also, it’s very difficult to get changes in gambling laws through the Legislature in an election year.

This timing will not cause a delay in constructing the parking garage. Shepherd plans to build the parking garage where Sara Cree Hall now stands. To build the garage Sara Cree must be demolished. That cannot happen until Phase II of the Creative Arts Center is built, since that building will house the new Studio Theater, replacing the one now housed in Sarah Cree.

Construction on Phase II is about a year away. This gives the voters of the Shepherdstown area one more reason to vote for table games on Dec. 5. Again, construction of the parking garage is not tied directly to passage of table games. But passage of table games will make a parking garage much more certain, and make it a reality much sooner.

– Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, represents the 57th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.