MORGANTOWN — Absolutely not.
That was Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom’s response when asked if Governor Jim Justice’s Wednesday press conference caused him to back off his stated desire to discuss a possible emergency declaration or even litigation against the state over the condition of Monongalia County’s roads.
“In fact, I feel even stronger about it now because it’s very apparent that he can’t understand what’s going on here,” Bloom said. “Throwing money at something isn’t a plan, and it’s clear there is no plan. Einstein said doing the same thing and expecting different results is called insanity. I’d call it the DOH approach.”
Asked last summer why the DOH couldn’t just use some of the revenue generated by bond sales tied to the governor’s Roads to Prosperity plan to address road maintenance, recently fired Transportation Secretary Tom Smith told The Dominion Post, “Because you don’t take out a mortgage to buy groceries.”
In other words, according to Smith, taking on long-term debt to provide short-term solutions to reoccurring problems is bad business.
During his remarks, the governor described gathering about $240 million to shore up local roads through three sources, including some of the $915 million West Virginia has already drawn down for Roads to Prosperity projects.
“Taking money away from the Roads to Prosperity, I’m adamantly opposed to that … The Monongalia County Commissioners were the first to endorse the road bonds. We went out and promoted it to other areas. Never once was it stated this would be used for road repair,” Bloom said, explaining that about 16 percent of the road bond revenue has been earmarked for Monongalia County.
“So if you start taking money away from that, we’re going to be hurt. That really infuriates me,” he said.
Preston County Commissioner Samantha Stone said she’s not generally in favor of dipping into those funds either, but something has to be done now.
“I think using that money potentially could backfire, but when you have a crisis situation and things have been let go for so long … I mean, the roads are literally crumbling apart. You’ve got to have a road,” Stone said. “I do think it would be irresponsible to just use bond money to try to fix this when it’s for something else, but the governor did say the Roads to Prosperity projects would still be completed and the secondary roads issue is going to be taken care of.”
While Stone said she was pleased that it appears there is a realization dawning in Charleston to the seriousness of the problem — a problem that prompted an emergency declaration from the Preston County Commission last April — she agrees with Bloom that the governor needs to provide some details.
“He needs to get a plan of action mapped out so we can know what’s going on. At the end of the day, we need to know what the plan is. We’re all funding this. We passed those road bonds. The citizens have a right to know,” Stone said. “It’s just a bad situation.”
Bloom also questioned Justice’s plan to bring in hundreds of temporary employees to do the work when DOH crews in Monongalia and surrounding counties in DOH District 4 are chronically understaffed.
“We’ve had 20 positions open. We can’t find anybody. Where are they going to come from? Is he going to pay them more than DOH employees,” Bloom asked. “If you worked for the DOH how would you feel about that?”
Both Stone and Bloom have helped spearhead efforts with the North Central Roads Caucus, a group comprised of local and state leadership representing the counties in DOH District 4 that formed after Preston County’s emergency declaration.
Both said those efforts will go on.
“We’ll continue to fight for District 4 because this is a District 4 issue. This isn’t just a Preston County issue,” Stone said. “I think we also have to be optimistic. This is a huge undertaking and it’s been let go for over two decades. It’s not going to be a short-term fix. It’s going to take time. I think that’s why we don’t have exact answers yet, because they’re still trying to figure it out.”