Mon Commission rejects citizens-proposed levy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An altered $5.2 million levy proposed by ad hoc committee Friends of the Green Belt (FROG) faced unanimous rejection Wednesday morning by the Monongalia County Commission

“The bottom line is, if it passed, the three county commissioners are the ones who must be accountable,” Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said following Wednesday’s meeting. “It was very clear that these groups did not have the backing. Nor did they have the internal management procedures to disburse a levy.”

The five-year levy would have provided for more than $1 million per year from county residents to specifically fund maintenance for BOPARC, the City of Morgantown’s parks and recreation board.

“All three of us were adamantly opposed to putting an obligation on another governmental body, which we are not permitted to do,” Bloom said.

Tony Christini, a part of FROG, said removing Haymaker Forest funding from the levy was one step, he hoped, towards approval. Initially, the levy clocked in at $9.4 million, including close to $790,000 in annual funding for the acquisition of the 42-acre tract of land.

“We revised our proposal because we felt it would be more politically feasible to take it just one step at a time at this point,” Christini said.

This levy and one other proposed by Morgantown Deputy Mayor Mark Brazaitis were brought to Monongalia County Commission for consideration following rejection by both BOPARC and Morgantown City Council.

“I also did not like that it would just go into general expenditures,” Bloom said. “Levies have to say exactly where the funds go.”

JoNell Strough, a WVU professor and part of FROG, said someone, somewhere needs to come up with funding to help with the numerous costs facing the Morgantown parks and recreation system.

“Our existing parks have needs,” she said.

That’s why, following the debate over Haymaker Forest in June, FROG chose to focus on how to improve the city’s existing parks.

“Why do we need another park when our existing parks are declining? We revised our initial proposal to take that into account and said first you got to take care of what you got,” Strough said.

Commissioner Sean Sikora said during Wednesday’s meeting that no one could downplay the problem facing Morgantown’s parks, but said none of the commissioners were comfortable with a levy that didn’t include one of the principal agencies named in that levy.

“There is some correspondence (with BOPARC),” Strough said. “It’s sort of one way I guess, but I have reached out to (Melissa Wiles). It’s true — she has not responded to say that she is not interested in this.”

Wiles is the BOPARC Executive Director.

Wednesday’s rejection should not, Strough said, downplay the area’s needs.

“We have had some fatalities, we had injuries to cyclists, pedestrians,” she said. “We wanted Morgantown to build an alternative transportation corridor, i.e. this Green Belt.”

Christini said there’s an urgency to the nature of these proceedings: Morgantown’s park system has immediate needs that are going unmet.

“These levy founds would not start to come in for use until next July,” he said. “If you don’t have it on the levy this November, it’s really three years from now that levy funds could come in. The needs are immediate. There’s been deferred maintenance for years. BOPARC has been chronically underfunded. This is uncontroversial. Everybody’s been saying this.”

Bloom said County Commission would not entertain placing any levy on the November 2018 ballot beyond August 22.

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