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Waiting — I have done a lot of it in the past few weeks. Each day feels like an eternity when you are inundated with nothing but change, isolation, and news of a world growing ill and losing lives to the invisible monster that is the coronavirus.

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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…

  • 2 min to read

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. Read more

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“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

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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

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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.

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This week, the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee voted to move forward with House Bill 4025, which would in two years’ time reduce the publication of legal ads for public notice in communities and counties across West Virginia in favor of placing this vital information on a government-owned website controlled by the state Auditor’s office.

Currently, West Virginia State Code requires the government, companies, corporations and others to alert local residents of actions that would impact residents and their communities.

There are currently 346 such instances in State Code. Legal ads are required for issues from changes in air quality permits, zoning changes, landfill permits and public comment periods on environmental issues to advertisements for bids on local work, government financial statements, delinquent taxes, property sales and election ballots. State Code says residents are entitled to this public notice by a legal ad in their local newspaper, and, depending on the issue, the notice is required to be published once, twice or three times to increase awareness.

HB 4025, which is sponsored by Delegates Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh County, and Tony Paynter, R- Wyoming County, would greatly reduce public notices at no proven benefit to the people of West Virginia.

Indeed, state officials pushing this legislation are dangerously wrong in thinking a document placed on a government website would be seen by or serve as public notice for West Virginians. This is a state with an aging population and one with limited access to high-speed internet and there remains no information on readership of a statewide website as compared to West Virginia newspaper websites, which attract millions of views each year.

We believe newspapers remain the most relevant source or news and information for communities throughout West Virginia.

Do some politicians actually want to make the process of finding public notices a little more difficult?

There is no evidence that HB 4025 would benefit local residents in their own communities.

In fact, the benefit would go to attorneys, their private clients and to state agencies.

While the bill’s sponsors’ cite the cost reduction to post legal notices online on a government site, they fail to point out that that 66 percent cost reduction would be for attorneys, companies and organizations that are now required by state law or a court to provide the public proper notice through publication of legal advertisements in a local newspaper. That’s because most legal advertisements require a publication fee from the individuals involved or listed, meaning the cost of the legal ad is reimbursed by private parties, not funded with tax dollars. For instance, the annual Delinquent Tax List requires each person or company to pay a fee for the reminder to be published in the local newspaper.

So one reduction West Virginia residents would see would be in the availability of important information affecting their lives and their property.

Another reduction would be in the amount of revenue that would remain in residents’ own communities. Counties in West Virginia actually gain tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to help fund county services from those publication fees.

HB 4025 ignores the fact that the West Virginia newspaper industry has invested millions of dollars in creating and maintaining websites for their newspapers and already offers a free online legal advertisement website — wvlegals.com — for local residents.

This bill is also a dream come true for political officeholders. Not only would it reduce the amount of information on public notices to average citizens, it would also reduce the number of times an election ballot would be published in the local community, giving incumbents an advantage over lesser-known political challengers.

There are currently 21 bills before the Legislature addressing policies for environmental regulations, 19 bills addressing consumer protection, 13 bills that would repeal existing code statutes and 14 bills on energy generation. In 2019, the state sold 187,208 individual tracts of land for unpaid taxes.

With many regions of the state struggling economically and the Legislature suggesting major changes to the tax code and economic development efforts, there is no benefit to West Virginians in reducing public notices. West Virginia lawmakers and residents should all oppose HB 4025.

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Following this week’s observation of Martin Luther King Day and in anticipation of next month’s celebration of Black History Month, it’s worth recalling the outsized role the little village of Harpers Ferry has played in this nation’s long march towards black Americans’ advancement as full and free citizens of the United States.

It was at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, after all, that abolitionist John Brown led his ill-fated raid on the federal armory in October 1859, a tectonic move, according to James W. Loewen in “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” that made the idea of emancipation of this nation’s 4 million enslaved people seem not so “radical” after all.

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Nancy Pelosi said she undertook impeachment "prayerfully," and apparently what she was praying was that she could get it over with as soon as possible. 
The House is preparing to send a flagrantly incomplete factual record to the Senate as the basis of an effort to remove a sitting president for the first time in our history. 
Pelosi has affected a posture of heavy-heartedness since the outset of the process, saying that "there's no joy in this" and urging a somber spirit as Democrats pursue the facts wherever they may take them -- so long as that's not too far into an election year. 
Read more

  • 2 min to read

Nancy Pelosi said she undertook impeachment "prayerfully," and apparently what she was praying was that she could get it over with as soon as possible. 
The House is preparing to send a flagrantly incomplete factual record to the Senate as the basis of an effort to remove a sitting president for the first time in our history. 
Pelosi has affected a posture of heavy-heartedness since the outset of the process, saying that "there's no joy in this" and urging a somber spirit as Democrats pursue the facts wherever they may take them -- so long as that's not too far into an election year. 
Read more

  • 1 min to read

Nancy Pelosi said she undertook impeachment "prayerfully," and apparently what she was praying was that she could get it over with as soon as possible. 
The House is preparing to send a flagrantly incomplete factual record to the Senate as the basis of an effort to remove a sitting president for the first time in our history. 
Pelosi has affected a posture of heavy-heartedness since the outset of the process, saying that "there's no joy in this" and urging a somber spirit as Democrats pursue the facts wherever they may take them -- so long as that's not too far into an election year. 
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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…