Perhaps 2016 will be a year of progress in West Virginia. That progress could come quickly with legislative session beginning Jan.13.
Commissioner Ed Hawkins best summarized the call from Monongalia County Commission ahead of thatupcoming legislative session. The countys governing bodybelieves the states leaders must work together in the upcoming legislative session to tackle major issueslike the projected multimilliondollar budget shortfall.
I expect them to focus on the problems and not to get burdened with little splintered things, said Hawkins.Work with unity, and look toward the roads and the economics of this state.
Monongalia County itself realized major budget issues in December:a significant dip in revenues from coal severance led to a hiring freeze and funding cuts for non-profits. It was a shock felt by many counties in the state.
With the coal industrys future in turmoil, Commissioner Eldon Callen believes its time to find a new method for generating revenue for counties.
Through no fault of the state of West Virginia, the loss of the coal severance revenue is devastating and can be further devastating not only to our county, but to all 55 counties, said Callen.They have got to work together and find a replacement for that where the counties could survive, otherwise I predict a number of counties going belly-up.
Added Commissioner Tom Bloom: Basically right now, there really isnt that flexibility and we only have two revenue sources, of which one is drying up. We need to come up with some other areas and avenues to try and promote each individual county.
And then theres the issue of the countys roads,somethingBloom attempted to combat with a so-calledsin taxproposed in July. While the roadsand many other issuesrequire immediate attention during legislative session, Bloom hopes officials can create long-term agreements,not short-terms fixes.
Right now, theyre just putting the finger in and filling the holes. We need to have solutions to the road problem, to PEIA, not just coming up with one-time fixes, said Bloom.Its a difficult situation where were $280 million in debt. We have to come up with ways of not only coming up with a solution but then preparing for the future.