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Some against Westover annexation

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Tracy Eddy

The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

(MCT)

Dec. 26--THE MONONGALIA COUNTY COMMISSION plans to vote on Westover's annexation request at 10 a.m. Wednesday, in the County Commission chambers, 2nd floor, Monongalia County Courthouse, 243 High St.

Businessman James Lunden said he will move his business from Morgantown Commons if the Monongalia County Commission approves Westover's request to annex the property this week.

"The taxes are really going to hurt us," he said.

If the annexation is approved, Westover will start collecting business and occupation (B&O) taxes from about 80 businesses in the Morgantown Mall and the neighboring Morgantown Commons.

Westover receives 50 cents for every $100 in retail sales and $1 for every $100 a business makes when it provides a service, according to the city's fee schedule.

Mon commissioners are expected to vote on the annexation request at their meeting Wednesday.

Lunden owns Mon Valley Integration LLC, a small business that does electrical contracting work, primarily for coal mines and gas companies.

He started the business in 2002, he said, and has been operating out of space in Morgantown Commons for nearly five years.

Lunden was one of four business owners affected by the annexation who sent the County Com- mission letters against the annexation.

County Administrator Diane DeMedici said the county had received 123 comments in favor of the annexation request -- which includes letters from Westover's mayor and city council as well as the signatures collected on petitions circulated by the city.

The county received 27 letters against the annexation.

The Dominion Post

requested the public comments submitted to the County Commission last week.

Pam Stump owns Moonstone Forest, in the Morgantown Mall, and she's opposed to the annexation too, she said.

"It's hard enough on small business owners without adding more taxes," she said.

Stump said Moonstone Forest has been a part of the Morgantown Mall for more than four years.

Lunden said Westover never contacted him about its plans to annex -- at the very least, he said city officials should have met with the business owners to talk about the possible benefits of annexation.

Lunden doesn't see any benefits to being annexed, he said -- he'll still be paying the Morgantown Utility Board for water and sewage, Suburban Sanitation for trash collection and Glimcher Corp. for road treatment and repair, as part of his lease.

Westover has said it will provide police protection for the Morgantown Mall property if it is annexed. The West Virginia State Police and the Mon County Sheriff's Department currently respond to calls in the area.

Westover hopes to annex about 103 acres -- the Morgantown Mall property, as well as Morgantown Commons, which sits above the mall and includes Kmart and Gabriel Brothers, among other stores -- through a minor boundary adjustment.

City officials have said Westover is underfunded and increased revenue from B&0 taxes will allow the city to improve the services it offers.

Glimcher Realty Trust -- the company that owns the property -- is against the annexation.

Other letters

About eight Westover residents sent the County Commission letters in support of the city's annexation request. Many shared the same sentiments -- the city has had to deal with all the traffic the Morgantown Mall creates in the area for several years and should get some benefit for it.

Westover resident Marguerite Bostonia said she is in favor of the annexation request. The Morgantown Mall and the businesses in it are close to Westover, and as such, use many of the community's resources -- namely, its roadways.

Employees and shoppers traveling to the mall add to traffic in the area, she said, particularly on U.S. 19. "Westover residents' travel time is affected by all the extra traffic."

The annexation probably won't ease the traffic congestion, Bostonia said, but the extra money it would bring Westover could allow the city to hire additional police officers or other personnel.

Some residents said Westover should get the mall property, especially since Granville has University Town Centre. In his e-mail to the County Commission, William Keechel called it a "no brainer."

Graville annexed the University Town Centre property in 1993, according to documents from the Monongalia County Clerk's Office.

University Town Centre didn't open until 2005.

Mayor Patty Lewis said the town had "no inkling" the property would eventually be a shopping center when Granville first annexed it.

The town initially thought more homes could be built in the area, she said. "We were actually hoping to increase our population."

About eight residents of the neighboring Pleasant Hills subdivision were also opposed to the request, and expressed concerns that Westover would try to annex their community next.

In their e-mail to the County Commission, James and Polly Van Gilder said "anyone should be allowed to live outside of the city if they so desire without the threat of being annexed by a city."

Mayor Dave Johnson has said the city has no interest in annexing the subdivision.

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To see more of The Dominion Post or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dominionpost.com/.

(c) 2010, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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