Permanent funding has been found to pay Maryland for MARC train service into West Virginia, according to West Virginia’s state auditor.
In a statement released on Monday, John B. McCuskey said the Jefferson County Commission will consider the funding request at the next regularly scheduled meeting on October 31.
“The State Auditor’s Office has identified a tax neutral revenue source to provide funding on an ongoing basis. We hope to utilize this solution with all local governments involved,” McCuskey said, noting the proposal did not envision a tax increase.
“There have been many hands working on a solution to this difficult issue, and a solution has been found,” he wrote. “The State Auditor’s Office is proud to have been part of this solution using savings brought about by changes in our office, working with the governor, local legislators and local governments to find tax-neutral funding, that will ensure the vital MARC train will continue in permanence without adding to the tax burden of our citizens.”
Up until the last few years, funding for the train service has largely been ignored by the state of West Virginia. At one point West Virginia owed the state of Maryland millions in back pay for the service. All of that was resolved in the spring of 2018, when West Virginia paid Maryland $1.5 million. But now the bill has come due once again. This time, Maryland wants $3 million or it will either reduce the service or cut it altogether. The deadline is only a week or two away.
McCuskey called the Eastern Panhandle is a major driver for the state’s economy and the state must work to help the region grow. He said its relationship with Washington D.C. is fueled by the MARC train that provides service to Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
“For the better part of two decades we have seen a boom in economic prosperity in our state’s eastern panhandle,” McCuskey said. “The towns, counties, colleges and businesses have all played a major part in this renaissance. While the boom has been great for the localities mentioned, it is important to note the role this success has played throughout our state. As our severance taxes decline, much of the budgetary pain associated with this lost revenue has been mitigated by the success of this panhandle, which is devoid of extractive industries.”
One proposal suggested that municipalities in both counties come up with a portion of the money, about $300,000 to be exact. The idea was part of a larger plan that included funding from the state Legislature and the auditor’s office to get the bill paid. McCuskey said the plan is to avoid this situation in the future.
“What’s important about this, is a permanent plan is being formulated to bring consistency and predictability to the train service which will allow the state and localities to market this area and continue to grow,” McCuskey said. “The time frame to locate this funding was short, and thankfully Berkeley County and Martinsburg had funding in their budget to meet the demands.
In his statement, McCuskey took issue with media reports on the situation.
“Jefferson County, however, was in a different budgetary position,” McCuskey said. “Recent media reporting has made it seem as though Jefferson County and its council are “refusing” to participate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The State Auditor’s Office has been working diligently with Jefferson County to help them find the revenue, but a mid- year budget request of roughly $80,000 dollars can be difficult to find.”