NEWS

  • 0

As the state of West Virginia enters the third week of reopening businesses and society in general, we are all trying to move past the COVID-19 pandemic and take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.

  • 0

For Dr. Terrence Reidy, the Eastern Panhandle’s chief health officer, the waters of this coronavirus pandemic are vastly uncharted.

The last time such a situation arose was the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1917-18. Luckily, this pandemic doesn’t have the ferocity of the Spanish Flu, which killed up to 100 million people, depending on whose count you are looking at.

But unfortunately, it’s very contagious and for people with weakened immune systems, it can prove deadly.

  • 0

Growing up in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in the 1970s, where John Brown the white abolitionist died on a crusade to free black slaves in years before the Civil War, I realized something was wrong with everyone, white and black. My father, in so many words, said blacks were inferi…

  • 0

The Tourism Development District Act, SB657, a bill that I introduced on the Senate floor on Jan. 30, passed last week in West Virginia Senate by a vote of 21-13 and 88-11 in the House. This legislation creates up to five tourism development districts and will provide opportunities for smaller West Virginia municipalities to tap into state resources to attract and develop large tourism projects.

I am pleased to have sponsored SB657, and I am grateful for the broad-based support it has attracted. It will help those smaller municipalities benefit from an industry that is playing an ever more prominent role our state’s economy.

A growing tourism industry will bring more and better job opportunities, additional customers for existing local businesses, more support for Parks & Recreation and Cultural Centers and more tax revenues to be used for infrastructure improvements.  

Tourism is a billion dollar industry in Jefferson County – that is a little more than one-third of its entire economy.   

To put that in perspective, there are 55 counties in West Virginia, yet Jefferson County generates more than one-fifth of the $4.5 billion in revenue that tourism generates state wide. The state has recognized the importance and potential of tourism as a growth industry in West Virginia and has provided a Tourism Development Act tax incentive through the West Virginia Development Office.  This incentive program began in 2005 and has been given an extension through 2024.  

SB657 works directly with that TDA tax incentive.  

In order to qualify for the designation to be one of the five tourism development districts provided for in SB657, there are specific requirements that must be met: Projects must be tourism related; there must be in place an agreement with the West Virginia Development Office for the tax incentive; they must be valued at $25 million or more; they must be in a Class IV Municipality.   This bill does not “require” a project to apply for the Tourism Development District if the project is going smoothly and the municipality remains a partner in the process.

Regarding the accusations that this legislation undermines historic preservation guidelines – it does not.  The W. Va. Development Office has indicated that all historic preservation will fall under the State’s Historic Preservation Office guidelines as they presently are for all historic projects.  These details will be written into the bill’s rules and regulations.

In the case of the Hill Top House Hotel in Harpers Ferry, the developer worked with the Historic Landmarks Commission to create an Historic Resource Plan.  In this plan all historic resources were documented and expert opinions on the preservation of these resources were included.  SHPO was given a copy of this Historic Resource Plan in April 2018 for review; its representative did a site inspection providing comment and historic guidelines for the armory house’ restorations.  Under the provisions of this new legislation, historic preservation will be applied in the same way as the Hill Top project has already proceeded.  This bill does not discount the importance of historic preservation.

The owners of Hilltop House have promised to keep the viewshed, which is on hotel property, open and accessible to the public 24 hours a day and have also committed to continuing historic preservation under SHPO’s guidance, including the restoration of the Armory Houses.  

Regarding SB657, even among its detractors in the Legislature and those few who voted against it, there are those who have stated publicly that they believe the Hill Top project is important to the future of our community.  I believe that there has been much misinformation regarding this legislation and some of that has to do with politics.  The fact remains that no one is going to invest millions of dollars in a project if they fear that the rules can be changed in the middle of the process.  SB657 provides a framework of regulatory certainty, providing assurances that everyone gets treated fairly.

Rucker, a Republican, represents Jefferson County in the West Virginia State

Senate.

  • 1 min to read

“Why is my Frontier phone service so bad?”  We hear it every day.  Service problems are not new for Frontier telephone customers, but they have gotten worse lately.

In fact the PSC received 4,000 complaints about Frontier’s unreliable landline service in the last two years.  These complaints include recurring service outages, static on the lines, even emergency service providers and 911 centers have experienced service interruptions.

Many of Frontier’s 300,000 West Virginia customers live in rural areas without cell service or any other alternative except for Frontier.  Frontier is their lifeline.

That’s why the PSC initiated a General Investigation into the status of Frontier’s copper network and the service quality problems related to that network.  The PSC concluded that the problems were severe enough that we required Frontier to participate in a focused management audit of its operations by an independent auditing firm of our choosing.  The results of that audit are to be delivered to the PSC by March 19, 2020.  Then Frontier will be required to respond to each recommendation.  Once we have that information, we will determine the appropriate course of action to ensure that Frontier will make the improvements necessary to provide reliable service to its West Virginia customers.

In the meantime, the PSC has a staff of highly trained Consumer Affairs Technicians who act as intermediaries between customers and utility companies.  Every day, they help people who have service problems or who are facing termination of their service.  It’s amazing what a call from the Public Service Commission can accomplish.  In fact, 98% of last year’s complaints about landline telephone service were resolved without becoming formal complaint cases.  Everyone in the state has access to this service just by calling 1-800-344-5113.

We have all heard rumors about Frontier filing bankruptcy.  That has no bearing on the fact that the company must fulfill its obligation to the people of our state.  That was our intention when the PSC ordered the audit, and these problems will be resolved, regardless of the parent company’s internal issues.

Lane serves as the Chair of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia Read more

  • 2 min to read

As a 70-year old, super conservative property owner, business owner, and resident in Harpers Ferry, I am generally against State governments interfering in local affairs, but the Harpers Ferry town government hasn’t managed the Hilltop House Project effectively and efficiently, so I 100% support the Tourism Development District Act, which provides a solution to the current impasse regarding the Hilltop House Project.

I served on the Harpers Ferry Planning Commission from 2007 to 2014 and was a Commissioner when the SWaN Group presented their original plan for the Hilltop House in May 2010. This plan was inappropriate — and I was among the most vocal of critics. I subsequently served on the Steering Committee that developed the “Vision” for Harpers Ferry and worked on development of the East Ridge Promontory Overlay District Amendment — so I am aware of the criteria for development set forth in these documents. In addition, I have served on the “Make it Happen” Steering Committee, which has actively supported the Hilltop House Project since 2019.

The current plan for the Hilltop House meets the criteria set forth in the Overlay Amendment. I do not understand why Mayor Bishop and some of the Council Members oppose the SWaN Group’s use of paper streets and have otherwise failed to expedite the development process. I understand that “everybody wants a hotel built” — and I understand the appeal of an exact replica of the former Hilltop House — but SWaN’s current plan enhances the character of the former Hilltop House with amenities that will attract tourists year-round and consequently increase winter tourism. With increased sales during the winter season, other hospitality-related businesses in addition to the Hilltop House will pay increased Sales, Business / Occupation, and Room Occupancy taxes, to everyone’s mutual benefit.

As owner of the Town’s Inn in the middle of Lower Town ( 175 and 179 High Street ) since February 2007, I’d be especially interested in seeing if Town tax revenue records for all tourism-related businesses indicate the same revenue pattern that the Inn has experienced over the past fourteen years: operating at full capacity during the busiest period ( Memorial Day to Labor Day: June, July, August)  and then experiencing an 80% drop in income when the “most busy” period is compared to the “least busy” period ( January, February, and March ). Sadly, 80% of Inn expenses ( utilities, insurance, auto, maintenance, repairs, etc.) continue at about the same rate whether the Inn is very busy or very un-busy — so I have had to borrow money and lay off good employees every year for the past fourteen years because I cannot charge summer guests prices high enough to cover winter expenses. Read more

  • 2 min to read

As a 70-year old, super conservative property owner, business owner, and resident in Harpers Ferry, I am generally against State governments interfering in local affairs, but the Harpers Ferry town government hasn’t managed the Hilltop House Project effectively and efficiently, so I 100% support the Tourism Development District Act, which provides a solution to the current impasse regarding the Hilltop House Project.

I served on the Harpers Ferry Planning Commission from 2007 to 2014 and was a Commissioner when the SWaN Group presented their original plan for the Hilltop House in May 2010. This plan was inappropriate — and I was among the most vocal of critics. I subsequently served on the Steering Committee that developed the “Vision” for Harpers Ferry and worked on development of the East Ridge Promontory Overlay District Amendment — so I am aware of the criteria for development set forth in these documents. In addition, I have served on the “Make it Happen” Steering Committee, which has actively supported the Hilltop House Project since 2019.

The current plan for the Hilltop House meets the criteria set forth in the Overlay Amendment. I do not understand why Mayor Bishop and some of the Council Members oppose the SWaN Group’s use of paper streets and have otherwise failed to expedite the development process. I understand that “everybody wants a hotel built” — and I understand the appeal of an exact replica of the former Hilltop House — but SWaN’s current plan enhances the character of the former Hilltop House with amenities that will attract tourists year-round and consequently increase winter tourism. With increased sales during the winter season, other hospitality-related businesses in addition to the Hilltop House will pay increased Sales, Business / Occupation, and Room Occupancy taxes, to everyone’s mutual benefit.

As owner of the Town’s Inn in the middle of Lower Town ( 175 and 179 High Street ) since February 2007, I’d be especially interested in seeing if Town tax revenue records for all tourism-related businesses indicate the same revenue pattern that the Inn has experienced over the past fourteen years: operating at full capacity during the busiest period ( Memorial Day to Labor Day: June, July, August)  and then experiencing an 80% drop in income when the “most busy” period is compared to the “least busy” period ( January, February, and March ). Sadly, 80% of Inn expenses ( utilities, insurance, auto, maintenance, repairs, etc.) continue at about the same rate whether the Inn is very busy or very un-busy — so I have had to borrow money and lay off good employees every year for the past fourteen years because I cannot charge summer guests prices high enough to cover winter expenses. Read more

MOST POPULAR

  • 0

Jefferson County’s tourism business is booming. We lead the state in tourism dollars and taxes. We have been blessed with natural gifts that are renowned worldwide and we welcome over a million visitors every year. The clear view of the Blue Ridge comes to mind as well as two famous rivers t…