MORGANTOWN — Citing a lack of support from BOPARC and the City of Morgantown, the Monongalia County Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny placement of a five-year, $5.2 million levy for operations and maintenance of BOPARC facilities before the voters in November.
Presented by Friends of Greenbelt, the levy was denied without any additional presentation by representatives of the group.
Commission President Tom Bloom presented letters from both the city and BOPARC indicating, in the case of the city, that city council voted not to pursue levy discussions. A letter from BOPARC Director Melissa Wiles indicated there had been no formal presentation of the levy information to the BOPARC board.
Commissioner Sean Sikora said he believes BOPARC has been underfunded for decades, going back at least 20 years to his time working part-time as an umpire in the park system. Even so, he explained, he couldn’t support placement of the levy without having the city and/or BOPARC at the table.
“I also don’t feel the way to start down a road is to ignore the city and BOPARC and push a fix on them — a fix that isn’t part of a comprehensive plan that was developed by BOPARC and blessed by the city; a fix that in this current climate could become a political football and further harm BOPARC and efforts to have collaborative participation between the municipalities and the county,” he said.
Sikora also addressed what he referred to as a “misconception” that the commission was obligated to move legally presented levy proposals to the ballot. He pointed to recent correspondence between the commission and the West Virginia Auditor’s Office in support of his point.
“Ultimately, it’s up to this commission to make decisions in the best interest of the county,” Sikora said.
Tony Christini and JoNell Strough, representing Friends of Greenbelt, said there has been more communication between the group, city administration and BOPARC than was apparent during Wednesday’s deliberation.
Strough provided The Dominion Post with emails between herself and Wiles. She said she’s also spoken to members of city council and was told informally by City Manager Paul Brake that if the levy were to get on the ballot and pass with the needed 60 percent approval, the city would accept the money.
“And there’s no reason for them not to accept the money. It’s general funding. It doesn’t obligate them to spend it in any particular way. It would simply replace the general funding that’s been coming from the city,” Christini said, noting a request to meet with the commission in work session following Wednesday’s meeting was denied.
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t allowed to speak, but I understand, I guess, their concerns. Bottom line, I would just like to see some action moving forward to support the park system that everybody uses,” Strough said. “The timing is big with the county ballot because it doesn’t come along every year. This was a chance, given all the attention that’s been paid to BOPARC and it’s needs, to start to address those needs.”
A second levy, this one for three years and $8.5 million to fund a two-sheet, year-round ice rink for BOPARC has also been presented to the commission, also without any formal support from the city or BOPARC.