(08/10/2010)
By Bob Weaver

A foot-in-the-door consolidation bill that would allow municipalities in Kanawha County to merge was passed by the West Virginia legislature in 2009, lowering the voter threshold for approval.

Thomas Ramey, Executive Director of Challenge WV, says it is an approach to consolidating West Virginia counties.

"The merging of county governments is constitutionally linked to the merging of county school systems, which state education officials have wanted for years," he said.

"It is the big swallowing up the small. While appearing beneficial in some cases, it is the continued destruction of communities using a corporate business model," Ramey said.

Merging, centralizing, consolidating and globalizing are 'bigger is better' models, generally supported by government and large business.

Calhoun County, during the next year, will begin facing a challenge over its existence.

Ramey said, "Unfortunately, it seems in the 21st Century, people of place is rapidly fading."

"Challenge WV has long maintained that the quality of life is directly linked to where we stand on the earth," he said.

"Just think about the government's globalization of the economy, how it has affected West Virginians, with tens of thousands of low to high-paying jobs going abroad."

The globalization of millions of American jobs is rarely connected to the current recession, nor dicussed by main stream media as being a problem.

"Just think about the mass consolidation of public schools in WV, resulting in long bus rides, and high costs with little academic improvement," Ramey said.

"It has had little to do with educating children, and a lot to do with money."

"We are already seeing a continuous widening of the gap between citizen control of what happens to their lives," he said, the lack of interest people have in the education of their children and what happens with local government.

"Hopefully, citizens will become ignited to save their communities," he said.

A Charleston-Kanawha metro area would be made up of 15 towns and cities and the population would increase from Charleston's 50,000 to a projected 192,000.

It is based upon the creation of larger city and county governments to attract business and government money.

The narrow bill has been placed on the consolidation table following years of attempts to consolidate WV counties.

"Of course, the final result would be big counties swallowing the smaller rural counties, that big counties or metro governments would be far more "efficient" and save the taxpayers money," said Ramey.

Certainly in the state's most rural counties, like Calhoun, Wirt, Gilmer, Clay, Roane and others, citizens could say goodbye to their low tax base.

"The metropolitan areas are really the future of this country. They're the economic engines, not cities, not counties, not states," said the mayor of Louisville Kentucky, whose area has had metro government since 2002.

Andy Kniceley, publisher of the Times-West Virginian in Fairmont, where Marion County is considering consolidation, said "You have little fiefdoms, issues greater to overcome than the 55 percent [vote] now required. There are political issues ... You have to be visionary and be able to see the benefits."

State Senator Brooks McCabe, the guru of WV consolidation, likes the dynamic movement he says is changing the nation's economy. McCabe is a Kanawha County developer.

Mark Demsey, vice president and director of Advantage Valley, said "If there is a bogeymen in this bill (consolidation) I can't find it. It doesn't make anybody do anything they don't want to do."

"No bogeymen?" asks Ramey, "Sounds like the WV Department of Education spinning that school consolidation is strictly a local issue by a local school board, when in fact local school boards are held hostage to the state's School Building Authority to consolidate."

McCabe said, "It (consolidation) will empower us ... It's about changing our image ... We need to look good in the national census," on record saying he likes the globalized concept.

Challenge WV editor Bob Weaver, who has often written about the virtues of the small, said "Thornton Wilder's 'Our Town' reminds us that rural people think a lot about their families, the universe, the eternal."

"They can see the starry sky, the milky way and beyond. They can see each other."

"Urban people, so it seems, are forced to think more about themselves, living in faceless cities, geared to rapid transit lives. We don't hold that against them."

"People in rural communities should hold their way of life close to their bosoms, like some people cling to diamonds and pearls," Weaver wrote.

"Challenge WV believes small communities are worth saving," Ramey concluded.


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