In the ongoing soap opera of “As Morgantown Turns”, the blame game is alive and well amongst local politicians. West Virginia State Senator Robert D. Beach (D – Monongalia, 13) responded to my Tweet promoting my story from last week (March 28th). Beach says the problem is the county commission is not engaging in the zoning process to address local growth and development issues.
I emailed Monongalia County Commissioner Thomas C. Bloom (D) for a response to Beach’s comments, but I have yet to hear back from him.
A way to compare and contrast the situation here is just 70 miles to the north of us in Western Pennsylvania, where the entire City of Pittsburgh is contained within the boundaries of Allegheny County.
Yes, Pittsburgh / Allegheny Co. is bigger and has a longer history of growth-decline cycles, but most of the economic, educational, cultural and structural sectors and cultures are similar. Like Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, this area’s economy is grounded in medicine, technology, and (higher) education. One advantage we have down here is a county-wide school district, as opposed to the 45 separate school districts in Allegheny County.
It might make sense for Monongalia County to establish “home rule” by eliminating the 3-person commission structure and moving to a single elected county executive, like Allegheny County did 15+ years ago. Lastly, both areas need to take a long look at county-wide public services like law enforcement, fire, EMS, etc. The one area that both regions are lacking in is a comprehensive transportation strategy, and it might end up being the defining issue for those areas that thrive and those that wither in this current era.
Frederick W. Theiman, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, is president of The Buhl Foundation, Pittsburgh’s oldest multipurpose foundation. His Op-Ed in this past Sunday’s [April 4th] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlights how city – county cooperation can be beneficial.
“…the partnership of Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, at a time when Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., are increasingly broken, has provided a steady drumbeat of forward movement unheard for at least 75 years.” Theiman further explains, “As in ‘The Boys in the Boat’ [the bestselling book about the U.S. rowing team in the 1936 Olympics], however, the mayor and county executive can act only as coxswains who set a course and pace for regional improvement. Unless a broad contingent of leaders pulls in harmony, with a synchronized commitment to the common good and in fidelity to shared goals, we will not open a lead on the many regions with which we compete.”
Bloom told me that the West Virginia state legislature is facing a similar impasse to the one in Pennsylvania, and the state government will more than likely shut down on July 1st. The main issue is the state budget. This is all the more reason why the city, county, as well as the state legislators and members of Congress who represent North-Central West Virginia need to work together in the increasingly partisan and acrimonious atmosphere in state and federal politics and government these days. These elected leaders can also set the example of cooperation for those in the private sector to follow.
Another player in this is West Virginia University. WVU is the largest employer and landholder in Monongalia County, and as a leading institution it needs to be more involved in development issues, like transportation, even when it is not directly involved. WVU is increasing its footprint in many areas of Monongalia Co. outside of the City of Morgantown. How does WVU plan to move students, staff, and faculty to these various places away from the main 3 campuses?
The other factor is that WVU’s property is classified as non-profit and is therefore not subject to property taxes, which cause a tremendous strain on the government entities that rely on property taxes for revenues (like Monongalia Co.). This is a similar problem for Pittsburgh, due to the number of universities and medical facilities within city limits. Bloom told me this issue is becoming an increasing problem for Monongalia Co. as it tries to raise enough tax revenues to support the budget and offset the funding cuts from the state.
The competition is not with each other (city, county, state), but rather with similarly sized regions across the country who are fighting for the same federal government money along with the various private sector projects which are up for grabs.
It would be highly beneficial for the elected leaders of Morgantown, Monongalia County, and the state of West Virginia (legislature and governor) to come together at this crucial moment in this area’s growth history.
Otherwise, the chaos we all experience every day will only get worse.