(05/05/2005)
By Bob Weaver

Calhoun and all rural West Virginia counties will benefit from an increase in cell phone taxes, which doubled after Gov. Joe Manchin signed the legislative bill late last night.

The bill increases money for 911 services for every county, except Berkley, Cabel, Kanawha and Mercer.

Calhoun's share of the fees is estimated to be at about $175,000 annually, but it could be more.

The tax increase is from $1.48 to $3.

Part of the money will be used to implement locater services when cell phone users call 911.

The money will allow Calhoun to complete the new 911 center, which so far has been built on a shoe-string, with much of the completion efforts by volunteer labor.

911 Advisory Board chairperson Jerry Riggs said "We have an excellent building already, thanks to good work by the contractor and lots of volunteer labor."

He said much of the infrastructure has already been installed.

A big ticket item remaining is a free-standing radio tower, expected to be under 200 feet high.

The system could be further improved with updated repeaters in sections of the county where communication is weak.

The Calhoun Commission has the names of two individuals who have applied for the non-paid position of 911 Director, recommended by the 911 Advisory Board.

The commission is expected to make the appointment at the next board meeting.

Manchin vetoed language which would have built a new $250,000 State Police barracks, supported by Del. Bill Stemple. Manchin indicated he did not believe the county needed a new barracks.

Stemple, during the past few years, did not get funding for a emergency services building proposed by the county commission. That building could have housed the 911 center, ambulance squad and State Police.

The local barracks was one of 18 bills Manchin killed using his line-item veto power, although supporters of those bills, including House Finance Chairman Harold Michael, say they may challenge the method the governor used so the projects can be restored.

Michael has directed millions of dollars of taxpayer money into his home district, Hardy County, and is likely the biggest taker of select Budget Digest money, education and contingency funds.

House Speaker Bob Kiss (Democrat) says Michael is doing what a good politician should do, look after his home county. Opponents to Michael "bringing home the bacon" say he is the Finance Chairman for all West Virginia counties and should consider the principle of fairness.

Michael said he will make no apology.

Now, the State Supreme Court has put a hold on Budget Digest money because the legislature did not follow earlier directives on how the money was to be issued.

More recently, since Gov. Cecil Underwood was in office, money was pulled out of the Governor's Contingency Fund for local projects. Michael has been one of the largest takers from the fund, which was once used for state emergencies and disasters.

He managed to access education funds, between $8 and $16 million, that he alone could distribute. State school superintendent Dave Stewart said he didn't have a clue what the money was for.

Michael has built a community college in his home county, which he launched with $4 million in Digest and special funding sources.


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