Mon Commission candidates discuss business development, zoning

MORGANTOWN — The Dominion Post Editorial Board sat with Monongalia County Commission candidates Tom Bloom and Andrew Price on Monday to discuss a range of topics.

Bloom, a Democrat, is a retired guidance counselor with  Monongalia County Schools  seeking a second six-year term on the commission, where he currently serves as the body’s president.

Price is a Republican who spent 30 years as a pilot for the Army National Guard. He is currently an EMS helicopter pilot and a farmer.

The Dominion Post was represented by Editor Allan Taylor, Opinion Editor Randy Vealey and Controller Brian Cole.

The topics discussed included:

Priorities

Bloom said  keeping taxes as low as possible for all county residents is among his top goals, noting the commission lowered levy rates for the current fiscal year.

He also said his focus is on continued business development in areas like the University Town Centre tax increment finance (TIF) district. He said the Morgantown Municipal Airport is a major component of the area’s business future and he would like to see the airport placed under the direction of an airport authority.

He said the development of infrastructure, like new roads to Mylan Park and the new track and aquatic center, will spur continued growth and improve quality of life for county residents.

Lastly, Bloom said, the ongoing opioid crisis needs to be a focus of everyone’s attention.

“I hear two things when a business comes in — what kind of educational community do you have and do you have people who can pass a drug test so we can put them to work,” Bloom said. “We have a serious problem, and we have to address this. We can’t sit back.”

Price said he feels like the county’s budget carryover is too high at more than $10 million for a $37.5 million budget.

“I’m sorry, that’s just not being fiscally responsible,” Price said. “As a farmer, if one-third of my budget carried over from year to year, I’d be dancing, but as a taxpayer, I think I can use my money just a tiny bit better.”

Price said he would also like to look at how the commission turns over community centers — often old schools — to the actual communities.

He explained that it becomes more of a burden than a blessing for a community group with little income to receive a dilapidated school building with years of deferred maintenance.

“If we’re just handing them over in the state they’re in, we pretty much just destroyed the community center,” he said. “They’re not capable of producing enough money to manage them.”

Recycling

If elected, Price said  he would work to revamp the county’s recycling program, which consists of a drop-off site in Westover open through the week until 3:30 p.m. and another most Saturday mornings in the 4-H Camp Road Wal-Mart parking lot.

Price said animosity between the commission and the county’s solid waste authority (SWA) has been allowed to fester going back to before the county took over recycling from the SWA in late 2014. Before that, the SWA maintained a number of drop-off locations.

“We’re going to have to get down to where we have more sites. What the county commission did was take care of an emergency that had to be dealt with, but we have not progressed beyond that,” Price said, explaining he’s working on a county recycling plan.

“I’m sorry, but a part-time place in Westover and Saturdays only is not an accessible recycling system. I talk to people throughout the county, and one of the top three things they want to see solved is the recycling situation.”

Bloom said state law prevents the county from signing a contract with a single hauler, much like what Morgantown has with Republic Services. He went on to say that simply placing bins out in various locations leads to a mix of trash and recycling being thrown in and around the containers unless the site is monitored.

According to Bloom, the county’s recycling program costs about $50,000, collects about 700 tons annually and results in about 93 percent of the material being recycled.

He went on to say that the fate of the SWA was the result of SWA decisions, not the commission’s.

“The solid waste authority ruined, ruined the entire system. They went bankrupt, and they refused to go to single stream when everyone else did — Fairmont, WVU, Morgantown — so that left a void,” Bloom said. “So then they kept cutting and cutting to where they’d put out bins, but there was nobody to pick them up. We took it over. It sounds easy to put bins out here and here, but it has to be in a controlled environment.”

Subdivision regulations and zoning

Currently the West Run Planning District is the only area of the county with any type of regulations on development, but the county has been working on subdivision regulations for years.

Subdivision regulations set minimum standards for the development of roads, stormwater management and public utilities and requires planning commission approval for a subdivision of parcels.

Bloom said he prefers planning districts like West Run to county-wide zoning.  He said the county has four planning districts, but only West Run  opted to put any regulations in place.

He explained that the county is bringing in an outside contractor to assist with the regulations, with most of the issues pertaining to  stormwater management.

“I think the way to go is planning districts. That way, if the people there want to have planning, that’s what they should do,” Bloom said. “I support planning districts. and we do need to have some sort of subdivision regulations. I don’t know that I’ve met a builder or developer who’s against water runoff regulations, but since there aren’t  any, whether they do or don’t is up to them.”

As a farmer and land-owner, Price said he also isn’t a fan of county-wide zoning, “but I do recognize we’re receiving our just rewards for a lack of planning in this county.”

He said the subdivision regulations presented by the planning commission are not tenable.

“It will absolutely put the brakes on everything going on in this county,” Price said. “I’ve talked to area developers, and they’re very upset, and reasonably so.”

He went on to say that there are regulations spelled out in state code that are not being enforced and that he would like to see changes to the planning commission to allow it to handle enforcement of such matters.

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