Bolivar Mayor Helen Dettmer was pleased with the news from last week’s announcement that MARC funding had been extended to June of 2020.
She said her town’s council members have been positive about financially supporting MARC, and that the train service helps attract Washington-area commuters that bolsters local property values.
“I’m glad they found the funding,” she said.
Like Dettmer, most Jefferson County leaders agree that the service is important to Jefferson County and the Eastern Panhandle. But with that said, there were complaints about the process.
Shepherdstown Councilman Mark Everhart said the press conference was positive because it shows Gov. Jim Justice in now engaged in solving the MARC funding issue. “It felt like it took a huge outcry to get the governor involved, but this tells me he’s interested in working on a deal and they’re going to work on something that’s acceptable to everyone,” he said.
Everhart said he supports local government funding to help support MARC, but admitted he voted “on principle” against Shepherdstown fulfilling the governor’s last funding request to municipalities in the middle of a budget year. He said the timing of the request was unfair to the municipalities. “But I think if they come up with something affordable and give [municipal officials] plenty of notice, I’m sure they’ll be able to work it into their budgets,” he added.
For other Jefferson County officials, however, last week’s press conference reflected an ongoing lack of information or contradictory or vague information they have received from West Virginia officials during the MARC funding negotiations with Maryland.
“I have had citizens ask me about what is happening with MARC and unfortunately, I have no answers for them,” Jefferson County Commissioner Patsy Noland, a Democrat, wrote in an email. “I have had no communication from Senator (Patricia) Rucker on any issue that is important to our citizens and that includes MARC service. I imagine there will be some grandstanding announcements by the end of the year, but to date, the commission has been left in the dark.”
Noland, who did not attend the press conference, as did none of her four colleagues on the commission, acknowledged afterward that the county commission was not involved in arranging the MTA deal, or was it previously made aware of the deal’s details, that Rucker outlined.
Noland wrote that the county commission has not offered to back down from its current position to give only a one-time $40,000 contribution toward the MARC—and not to give the service ongoing funding.
Justice had asked Jefferson County to contribute $82,810 toward MARC.
Jefferson County’s contribution to MARC is being drawn from a $200,000 emergency contingency fund. The funding is on top of $20,000 the county already allocated this year to help pay for Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority bus service supporting MARC service.
“The county commission will begin our budget discussions next month,” Noland also wrote. “When the commission voted to contribute to MARC, we agreed to do it for one year. Not knowing what deal was struck with Maryland makes it difficult to know what the future holds for MARC service to Jefferson County. There has been no commitment from Jefferson County for future funding.”
Noland, Commissioner Ralph Lorenzetti, a Democrat, and Commissioner Jane Tabb, a Republican voted to provide the one-time funding. Commissioners Josh Compton and Caleb Wayne Hudson, both Republicans, voted against providing the funding.
Charles Town Mayor Bob Trainor and Ranson Mayor Keith “Duke” Pierson, who attended the press conference, said they also were not informed of the MTA deal. They also said their municipalities wouldn’t be changing their positions that the one-time stopgap funding they provided wouldn’t be repeated. Charles Town contributed $8,839 toward MARC as the governor requested, and Ranson contributed $7,553 as requested.
Trainor said he sent a letter to the governor’s office with Charles Town’s payment to support MARC that explains the city’s position and what municipal money the city had to tap to provide the train service contribution. “There’s no tax structure for municipalities in the counties, at least not in West Virginia,” he said. “We [as municipalities] don’t get any transportation tax money—no fuel tax or anything like that.”
Trainor also said he agreed with Blair that state officials should obtain more definite data about Maryland’s cost to operate the train service in West Virginia before the Mountain State makes a long-term funding commitment.
Delegate John Doyle (D-Jefferson), who attended the press conference, said he hoped for and expected an announcement reflecting more progress on securing MARC service’s future in the Panhandle.
“I would have thought that if [state officials from Charleston] were going to come all the way up here and have a press conference it would have been once they concluded an agreement rather than to say we’re negotiating,” Doyle said. “We’ve known that for weeks now that negotiations have been ongoing.”
Doyle, who said he is “adamant” that local governments with lean budgets and limited streams should not be required to help pay for the MARC service, added that the West Virginia Legislature will continue to have a major say in the service’s long-term funding. He said the entire state would benefit from rising real estate property taxes collected by ensuring the train service helps sustain the Panhandle’s growing economy.
“Most [state] legislators I talk with agree with me,” he added.