A Wave Election and Annexation

At his City of Morgantown blog, Sam Wilkinson asks if to win local elections, “Is it important to have been born in Morgantown?” and he answers “No.”

Clearly.

In fact, it appeared important to NOT have been born in Morgantown to win the recent Morgantown City Council election. That’s what the results showed: Don’t be born in Morgantown if you want to get many votes from current Morgantown residents. Yes, patriotism (outsiders are evil!) is the last refuge of the landlords (the One Percent and their fellow travelers). Though not much refuge after all in a city and surrounds now full of “outsiders”! So who really are the “outsiders”…? The old-guard “insiders” with their skimpy ideas and baseless politics are inside what after all, other than the ideology of the One Percent?

Wilkinson adds, “…there are functionally two Morgantowns: the place we understand Morgantown to be, and the place the lines actually define. It is an absurdly stupid thing, and almost impossible to fix.”

Except that things have changed. It’s obvious now that the only way forward is to fix the broken city boundaries. Fix-minded representatives just swept the City Council. Fix-minded representatives can sweep the County Commission too. It will be more difficult but with work is possible. A corner has been turned.

Charles Town, WV is currently annexing sections of Jefferson County such that the city of Charles Town will grow in one fell swoop by 70 percent, and increase in population by 27 percent. Charles Town is adding over 4 square miles to its current 5.8 square miles and upping its population from 5,889 to 8,063. The city of Charles Town explains how and why it is expanding in clear detail at its city website. In comparison, Morgantown’s neighbor city Westover, in its recent and supposedly impossible annexation of the Morgantown Mall and surrounds, added only about 10 percent to the size of Westover, and very little population. Charles Town, with crazy borders like Morgantown, is on the verge of going far beyond Westover’s example, and both examples make a good model for Morgantown.

Charles Town has the advantage of having had Jefferson County in 2003 approve urban growth boundaries (UGBs), allowing the city to annex at will in the future within those boundaries. The future is now in Charles Town. These are the conversations that responsible, forward-looking leaders are having now in West Virginia. These are the good, even great, actions they are achieving. This will be among their most impressive of public legacies. A legacy that greatly benefits city, county, region, and state all.

For Morgantown to model exactly after Charles Town, by state law Monongalia County would first have to establish county-wide zoning, a county zoning ordinance. Then UGBs could be established by the County, perhaps based on the good “Conceptual Urban Growth Boundary” detailed in Morgantown’s state mandated Comprehensive Plan, Appendix A, page 19.

However, there is no need at all to wait for county-wide zoning, that is, a county-wide zoning ordinance (currently lacking in Monongalia County – a gross negligence). Though UGBs fall within the rubric of state code “minor boundary adjustments” (MBAs), MBAs can be enacted by city/county cooperation without UGB designations – just as in Westover’s annexation of the Morgantown Mall and surrounds. Westover’s annexation was necessarily approved (per state code) by the Monongalia County Commission, in a 2-1 vote. The lone County Commissioner who voted against the Westover annexation, Eldon Callen, has been since voted out of office and also lost in his recent attempt to win a City Council seat.

There is every reason for Morgantown to pursue an MBA or a series of MBAs immediately (no legal reason not to), for immediate implementation. Just as Westover is now collecting city sustaining B&O taxes from the Morgantown Mall annexation, so too should the city of Morgantown expand and collect and bring public representation to the masses of unrepresented citizens who currently go without a voice in the city even though they live in urban pockets well within Morgantown’s functional, if not legal, boundary.

It is not asking too much for the city of Morgantown and the county of Monongalia to catch up to Westover locally, and to catch up to Charles Town in the eastern part of the state. Such responsible action would be hugely beneficial to quality of life and to much greater economic activity and prosperity (at the local, regional, and even state level). But the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission will have to stop sitting on their hands, or stop clamping their mouths, and start leading vocally and by acting on this. Failing this, they should be replaced come election one by one in favor of those who are willing to do what is so greatly beneficial to the public in the local cities, counties, and state. Things have changed. So must the leadership.

Morgantown should expand its boundaries to bring political representation to the tens of thousands of people who live in urban pockets in the county (technically) and who currently go unrepresented by the city that they realistically live within. The vast bulk of the businesses in the county along the city’s crazy borders would not be here otherwise, would not exist without the city, and yet they do not pay B&O tax like the city businesses that support the city all the while. The result is unfair and a gutting of the local economy which would boom with the stimulus of a city budget that is double, triple, or quadruple its current size. A great economic stimulus would result if the city boundaries were properly fleshed out and newly enabled city initiatives were undertaken. The recently implemented city worker user fee could then be cut or reduced or redirected to, say, parks and rec which would also improve the economy, along with quality of life.

The current County Commissioners and other holdbacks too often appear willing only to point to the airport/business park and riverfront development as the main new efforts of economic stimulus to be pushed in the area. This amounts to basically a con job, a great little con, one that couples with their blaming of WVU and the state for assorted problems. This is often done to divert from their own County negligence. The City Council has done this too. These are negligent and derelict positions compared to pursuing the great public benefits of annexation, which the County Commission is de facto blocking and which the City Council has not remotely led on. Airport business park and riverfront efforts are important, as are equity from WVU and the state, but compared to city and regional benefits from serious annexation…benefits including boosted revenue, jobs, economy, quality of life (zoning, representation, parks, services, utilities, infrastructure, etc)…those 4 diversionary issues are mere tiddlywinks, a pittance. Serious border expansion approximating Morgantown’s Conceptual Urban Growth Boundary, at least, is the minimum that responsible City and County leadership should call for and act toward. Further great initiative is readily at hand.

It is long since time for the conversation to grow up among the elected leaders. Otherwise, the County Commission and the City Council will continue to pose as begging wards of mighty WVU and the state. The City Council is moving forward. The County Commissioners will need to join City Councilors in leading on annexation – or be swept out. Patriotism may be the last refuge of the landlords, but after that last refuge, as we’ve seen with the recent City Council election, the landlord mindset figureheads are simply removed from office, when positions that are vacuous, damaging, or otherwise unpopular are revealed for what they are.

Political power consists of opinions and ideas, also money. The money hasn’t gotten out from under the boots of the landlords much, but a lot of opinions and ideas have, and thus so has the power at the city level at least. We’ll see about the county level next. And the state, and beyond.

Is it asking too much of the local leaders of the city of Morgantown and in the county of Monongalia to try to catch up to the leaders of Westover, Charles Town, and Jefferson County? Far from it. A corner has been turned. The voters now seem intent on making certain that local officials get up to speed, just as the recent impressive election results have shown.

Landlords Versus The People: Morgantown City Council Elections, 2017

Sam Wilkinson writes at thecityofmorgantown blog: 

Confirmed: Local Landlords Trying To Buy Morgantown’s City Council

Also: Some Local Landlords Appear To Be Especially Interested In Buying Morgantown’s City Council

Sam Wilkinson’s articles should be front page stories in the Dominion Post and also lead on WBOY.

This month’s Morgantown City Council Election has come down to this: the Landlords versus the People.

Candidates supported by individual donors:
Ward 1 – Rachel Fetty
Ward 2 – Bill Kawecki
Ward 3 – Ryan Wallace
Ward 4 – Jenny Selin
Ward 5 – Ron Dulaney Jr.
Ward 6 – Mark Brazaitis
Ward 7 – Barry Wendell

Candidates supported by a special interest landlord PAC:
Ward 1 – Ron Bane
Ward 2 – Al Bonner
Ward 3 – Wes Nugent
Ward 4 – Eldon Callen
Ward 5 – Kyle McAvoy
Ward 6 – Jay Redmond
Ward 7 – Bill Graham

The needs, priorities, and preferences of the public will be represented by Rachel Fetty, Bill Kawecki, Ryan Wallace, Jenny Selin, Ron Dulaney Jr., Mark Brazaitis, and Barry Wendell far moreso than by any other candidates.

Those other candidates have the financial backing of the NCWVBO landlord political action committee, showing where their allegiance lies.

Early voting is ongoing now through the end of voting on April 25.

 

Who Will Save The Forest?

Two wealthy owners in Morgantown have plans to destroy the Haymaker forest and fill it with houses and roads and other buildings, a lot of buildings and roads:

Haymaker Forest

Haymaker Forest is on the south side of Morgantown. It is a former steep sloped dairy farm with a brushy stream and the headwaters of a tributary of Aaron Creek, which flows into Deckers Creek very close to Marilla Park. Though privately owned, there are hiking trails already throughout Haymaker Forest. Beautiful hiking and biking trails could be expanded through Haymaker Forest extending from nearly-adjacent White Park (and its Cobun Creek connectors with the Mon Rail Trail) to Marilla Park, both at its upper and lower ends. Not, however, if this forest is destroyed for development.

Both the city of Morgantown and Monongalia County have state mandated (though nonbinding) Comprehensive Plans with land use maps designating the Haymaker Forest as a sensitive area prioritized for preservation. While very many areas in the city and county are designated for development by the Comprehensive Plans’ land use maps, this forest is not one of them. And with good reason. Some of the slopes are steep, and much of the forest remains designated as “farmland of statewide importance,” now become prime forest, potentially sheltering multiple protected species, including bats and clover.

Below are the developer/owners’ plans for the forest instead, the first diagram submitted to MUB and the second diagram submitted to the Morgantown Planning Commission:

subdivision plans (2)

planning commision subdivision

The owner developers intend to put in a lot of buildings and roads, despite the city and county comprehensive land use plans prioritizing the opposite. Below, a map in the Monongalia County Comprehensive Plan shows the area to consist entirely of severe slopes and “farmland of statewide importance” now forested that is not marked for any “development potential” despite very much of the map being marked for development (in yellow) – (Haymaker Forest is in the added red oval):

Conservation map county marked red circle

Similarly, the City of Morgantown’s Comprehensive Plan’s Land Management map prioritizes the Haymaker Forest for “reserve” and not for growth or development, in an almost totally developed city already:

Morgantown Comprehensive Plan Land Management map (2)

Unfortunately, though both the county and city Comprehensive Plans are mandated by the state to exist, they are not binding, even when there is overwhelming public support for those plans or portions of those plans, as in the case of preserving Haymaker Forest, and potentially incorporating it into the city and county parks system. It is the responsibility of local public officials and offices to make these plans reality. The city and county so far have refused to take such action though it has been urged and available. The Morgantown City Council refused to vote on and pass a user fee for park land acquisition (direct or indirect), and the Monongalia County Commission has not been receptive to any action for park land acquisition there. The city and county are refusing to live up to their Comprehensive Plans. In doing so, they are refusing to enhance and protect the ecological and social quality of life in the area. And for what? So that two wealthy owners can profit off of Haymaker Forest in wholesale disregard for public planning and public will? That is government for the One Percent, not government for the public and people in general.

Here is what government for the people would have long since been actively working to create out of Haymaker Forest, not the currently privately planned entirely inappropriate development and anti-public-planning mayhem but parks and trails for the public and for wildlife and ecology, for health and quality of life, a park and greenbelt initiative, from White Park to Marilla Park:

South Loop Morgantown Parks & Trails 1 (2)

This could be and should be part of a greater greenbelt initiative establishing the first major outer loop bike trails connecting Deckers Creek and the Monongahela River to trails through the surrounding city and county, possibly via the potential loops illustrated here:greater greenbelt initiative

Such a sweeping expansion of the park and trail system would greatly improve quality of life, health, and the reputation of the city and county, thereby attracting further investment financial and social. Saving the Haymaker Forest by various city and county initiatives should be a key part of area revitalization, preservation, and improvement. Enough with anti-public-planning. Enough with sitting on hands by local government officials, failing to do what should have been done decades ago, and could be done at virtually any time now. It is time to move forward in and around Haymaker Forest, and not backward into the chaos and destruction of similar previous inappropriate private development.

There is a much bigger picture to be considered in and around Haymaker Forest:

Mon_Valley_Green_Space (2)

Haymaker Forest, though largely in county jurisdiction, is partly in city of Morgantown jurisdiction and is engulfed on three sides by three of the city’s seven wards (1st, 2nd, and 6th wards – Councilors Bane, Kawecki, and Redmond). In other words, nearly a majority of the City Council wards border and engulf Haymaker Forest and yet Council has done essentially nothing to attempt to save it. Furthermore, Councilor Kawecki’s Ward partly contains Haymaker Forest. And yet where has a single Councilor even spoken up publicly on behalf of preserving Haymaker Forest? Why do they pass up opportunities to marshal funds for it? And the County Commissioners? Deafening silence, no action. Suddenly bond proposals for many things, but not this. Do they all side with the One Percent against the public on this matter of area and even regional importance? Representatives of multiple neighborhoods and Neighborhood Associations have appeared before City Council and County Commission and appealed for quality of life relief from the privately planned development by two wealthy owner developers, a private development that opposes both the city and the county’s thoughtful and publicly vetted Comprehensive Plans. Do the local government officials think they are elected to represent the interests of the One Percent over the interests and needs of the public, quality of life be damned? What can one reasonably conclude?

haymaker forest and wards labeled (3)

Haymaker Forest

forest header

forest superimpose

Developer’s map of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Haymaker Village and original submission to MUB – note the proposed thruway extending from Dorsey Avenue to Buckhannon Avenue:

subdivision plans (2)

MUB map of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Haymaker Village:

MUB mockup of Haymaker Village phases

 

ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS:

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Morgantown Monongalia Annexation Plans?

Obviously the city’s main revenue problem is the vast amount of B&O tax, also property tax and now service fee tax, uncollected just outside the city boundaries yet within the concentrated urban population.

Where is the city’s annexation policy that the city’s Comprehensive Plan slates for immediate creation by the city council? (See LM 10.4 on page 106 of the Comprehensive Plan) (Also see LM 10.5 on page 106 and ED 6.2 on page 115).

Where are even the attempts at cooperative efforts of city-county annexation planning? Cooperative city-county annexation would 

1) stimulate the local/regional economy; 
2) vastly improve local/regional public revenue generation, for services and infrastructure;
3) provide zoning to manage growth; 
4) provide urban county residents with political representation where they lack it currently; 
5) improve city-county relations;
6) possibly prevent the large Haymaker Forest bordering 3 of the city’s 7 Wards from being destroyed by reckless growth entirely counter to the Plans;
7) greatly improve local/regional quality of life, in many ways. 

The alternative?: worsening local/regional chaos and crumbled conditions, greater ecological destruction and continued public poverty. 

Now that the local/regional population continues to boom, having grown more in the past 10-15 years in the immediate Morgantown area than it grew in the previous 50, while city and county budgets both remain at 2008 levels, there is no turning away from an organized series of cooperative city-county annexations, unless gross government dysfunction and continued public poverty is the goal. Remember: wide latitude is given to County Commission annexation decisions.

The city and the county lack money due largely to their own failings, and only in part due to the failings of the state. This financial void breaks down in part as follows, from local to state, immediate to longer term:

  • Morgantown’s lack of a dedicated revenue stream to parks and recreation, allowed by state code but non-existent locally (see Charleston County’s fantastic greenbelt example);
  • Morgantown’s lack of annexation of several commercial corridors and residential areas and more, which would generate tremendous revenue, especially B&O and property taxes but now also multi-million dollar service fees given the recent passage of the streets and police fee;
  • failure to incorporate Brookhaven (pop. 5000+) and Cheat Lake (pop 8000) as cities, or to annex into Morgantown;
  • lack of public banking (at the city, county, and/or state level) – the absence of a public bank bleeds away bank fees and bank profits from the public and undercuts community investment in multiple ways;
  • lack of progressive taxation, not least in regard to income and the severance tax. (This is the main state issue.)

Remedy the above, and the end result should mean a doubling or more of local/regional public revenue for services and infrastructure, coupled with the badly needed expansion of zoning that would greatly improve the public’s capacity to manage development and to protect green space and to better quality of life.

The city and county have no financial plan – nor zoning plan for managed development – remotely as promising or effective as the measures above.

The city and county need to act now to meet the growing pressures.

In a vast and woefully incomplete understatement, WVU’s College of Business and Economics notes at the very end of its 2014 report, “Morgantown, West Virginia: How Does the City’s Economy Compare to Other College Towns?”:

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Public Banks for Morgantown Monongalia West Virginia

An economist could analyze Morgantown’s CAFR statement (or as the city labels it, YEFR), possibly via the review process suggested by the Public Banking Institute, below, to determine what funds the city could use to capitalize a public bank, and then to come up with a brief cost/benefit analysis showing the impact a public bank could have. Same for county and state where a public bank might make more or less or equal sense.

Largely due to the 2008 economic crisis, there’s a movement toward public banks in the US spear-headed in part by the Public Banking Institute founded in 2011

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Unprecedented Morgantown Monongalia Population Growth

There is a planning and demographic crisis that is smashing the greater Morgantown area, at the same time that the state is being swept up in an intensification of the economic crisis.

Compared to the state economic crisis, which is mostly hitting southern West Virginia, the crisis pounding Monongalia County and Morgantown is unprecedented, and it’s as complex, newer, and less well known and less understood than the state crisis. This new and local crisis is being driven by a recent unprecedented population surge in Monongalia County, virtually all of it in the greater Morgantown area.

In the past 15 years (2000-2014), Monongalia County – in fact, the greater Morgantown area – grew by more than 22,000 people, which is more than it grew in the previous 50 years (1950-2000). During those previous 50 years the county grew by less than 21,000 people. Since 2000, the county has grown by more than that 22,000 people, and most of this massive population growth has occurred in the past 10 years, and virtually all of this unprecedented population growth has occurred in the greater Morgantown area.

And yet, amazingly, in the past 6 years, since 2008, throughout the peak of the population boom, the budgets of both the City and the County have essentially flat-lined, despite the area being in the throes of an unprecedented population explosion.

Furthermore, WVU College of Business and Economics predicts that this population boom will continue at nearly the same rate, while merely cheering it. Additionally, nearby Preston County has been growing its population nearly as fast as Monongalia County, adding further pressure on the Morgantown area. (Also, WVU student body enrollment essentially doubled to 29,000 between 1970 and 2014.) Morgantown’s population finally climbed about 5 percent between 2010 and 2014 to 31,073 people, while the county population continued to climb at a higher rate (to a total by 2014, as noted, of 103,463). Because Morgantown’s annexation efforts remain anemic, almost non-existent, the city is starved for funds and the chaotic, congested, degraded results in the city and adjacent county areas are plain to see, though there is much unnecessary invisible suffering too. Read the rest of this entry »

Straight to Worse

TURNING WEST VIRGINIA AROUND

Take a close look at what your elected officials have achieved compared to what they could have or should have achieved. West Virginia is a resource rich state made poor by corporate state exploitation.

Then take a look at the political parties who have aided and abetted in this disaster. In general, what you will find is that the Democrats are bad and the Republicans  are worse, all the while progressive voices and candidates are stifled and ignored – by corporate media, by the schools, and by many other social mechanisms.

The recent election all across the state has seen a shift from bad to worse. Desperate  and deceived people have made desperate and false choices. Bad wasn’t good enough, clearly. Unfortunately, the change has now been made for the worse. Russell Mokhiber’s look at politics in Morgan County WV makes this clear why:

When Decent Family People Push Cruel Anti-Family Policies

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

The one thing you hear about Charles Trump, Daryl Cowles and Saira Blair — Morgan County’s elected representatives to Charleston — is that they are decent family people.

And who could argue?

From all indications, they are just that.

A campaign mailer sent to Morgan County residents last month shows each surrounded by their family members — and promoting “conservative family values.”

But Trump, Cowles and Blair are all advocates of cruel policies that will hurt working West Virginia families.

All oppose raising the minimum wage.

And all favor union busting legislation that will reduce wages and income, increase poverty and infant mortality rates, and lead to higher rates of death on the job.

The union busting legislation — known by it’s corporate propaganda term — right to work laws — will be pushed by the new regime in Charleston early next year.

In the past, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has come out against this legislation, but given the new political dynamics in Charleston, the inside betting is that Tomblin will buckle and go with the flow. (In West Virginia, it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about corporate power. For more on this, see Ken Ward Jr.’s recent piece at his blog Coal Tattoo.)

The union busting legislation that Trump, Cowles and Blair all support creates what is known as a free rider problem.

It would allow West Virginia workers to opt out of paying union dues — while at the same time benefiting from union negotiating power that delivers higher wages and safer workplaces.

The non paying workers in effect get a free ride.

True conservatives are opposed to right to work laws. They argue that the legislation represents government interference with corporations’ ability to freely negotiate contracts with workers.

Even Milton Friedman, the father of the conservative Chicago School of Economics and author of the classic Capitalism and Freedomopposed right to work laws.

Liberals argue that the legislation allows bosses to fire workers without cause.

“‘Right to work’ sounds like a law guaranteeing you a job, or at least protecting your job once you’ve got it,” Michael Kinsley wrote in a piece in Bloomberg News titled The Liberal Case Against Right to Work Laws. “A lot of the propaganda by the Chamber of Commerce and similar business groups is about so-called forced unionism. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. The main effect of right-to-work laws is to outlaw regulations of employment and allow your boss to fire you without cause.”

Kinsley makes the point that under the union busting legislation, “people could enjoy the benefits of union membership, including negotiation of wages, without sharing in the cost.”

“Not only was this unfair to those who did pay their share, but it made organizing a union significantly harder,” Kinsley writes. “Why should I pay union dues if my fellow workers don’t?”

“Right to work” sounds so pleasing — you have a right to work.

But there’s an iron fist in that velvet glove.

Right wing politicians use the laws to weaken worker power.

By weakening unions, these laws — currently in 24 states — lower wages and living standards for all workers in those states.

Workers in these 24 states earn on average $5,680 less year than workers in other states.

So, take another look at that mailer received.

It is punctuated with a quote from Ronald Reagan, who, as an actor, served as president of Hollywood’s most powerful union, the Screen Actors Guild, from 1947 to 1951.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Reagan is quoted as saying. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Free from the corporate state, that is — the corporate state which Trump, Cowles and Blair represent.

Nice family people.

Cruel anti-family policies.

Russell Mokhiber edits Morgan County, USA.

So what’s next, West Virginia, now that you’ve gone from bad to worse?

An all too predictable forthcoming shock of reality.

If the Democratic Party wants to have a future in West Virginia, it will have to stop acting bad and worse. It will have to adopt policies that far better impact West Virginians.

So, what is to be done?

For one thing, the state of WV needs to create its own bank, modeled after North Dakota’s; locally, the city (of Morgantown) needs to push for major annexation; and Monongalia County needs to stop handing large gifts to WVU and big business. Same old story. Many other possibilities exist, including doing what other cities and counties do: taking further control of the utilities and communications, thereby creating good local jobs while saving consumers money.

Economist Ellen Brown does great work on public banks. The City of Morgantown should start its own bank too but look for hell to freeze first. The city ought to go ahead and found one though if for no other reason than to push the state to found its own bank in an effort to head off any wave of municipalities from doing so. States and municipalities need money. There is no more reasonable place to get it than through starting their own banks. North Dakota is a tremendous example.

West Virginia’s massive Rainy Day fund is a complete and total waste. It could be used to rebuild the infrastructure of the state and fund many great social needs. If the state established a bank, it would not need any Rainy Day fund at all, because it could rely on the bank in case of any emergency or shortfall. Just like the state of North Dakota does, though only North Dakota, for now.

Nearly two dozen states have introduced bills to establish a state owned bank like North Dakota’s bank. West Virginia should both introduce and pass such a bill to begin genuinely turning the state around. Notice that this is a way to help lift people up by using the people’s own bootstraps (bankstraps). Now how can even a Democrat or a Republican object to that?

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