FORMERLY A COAL RICH AREA, SCOTTS RUN PSD RECENTLY BECAME A TIF PLAN GOLD MINE RIPE TO BE PLUNDERED
And swiftly plundered it was. Long a coal rich area forced into deep poverty by the coal industry and related powers, the Scotts Run area far more recently saw its Public Service District (PSD) about to be transformed into a gold mine, due to the impending influx of WVU “Ballpark TIF” funds. Instead, this major gold vein has now been pre-emptively plundered by the powers of Morgantown and Monongalia County. This is history repeating itself, first as brutal tragedy and now as seeping farce.
What happened? The “ballpark TIF” plan happened. And it happened in the Scotts Run PSD, which was then immediately forcibly taken over. Those tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements now locked-in to the TIF district will no longer be going to the Scotts Run PSD, which was scandalously dissolved, its resources and organizational capacity taken over and handed to the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB). Those new millions of TIF plan dollars will now be going to MUB rather than to Scotts Run PSD, due to the legally dubious and ethically disreputable actions of the Scotts Run PSD board members appointed by the Monongalia County Commission – which will be dispensing the TIF plan infrastructure fund.
By stacking the Scotts Run PSD Board, the Monongalia County Commission instigated the Scotts Run PSD dissolution and then approved MUB’s takeover of the PSD. The either ignorant or uncaring Morgantown City Council dutifully rubber stamped MUB’s “acquisition” of the Scotts Run PSD as orchestrated by the County Commission and its PSD appointees.
The recently passed “ballpark TIF” plan legislation obligates the Monongalia County Commission to spend tens of millions of local tax dollars – for up to the next 30 years – on infrastructure improvements in the TIF district (that is, in the University Town Centre area and in most all land stretching around and west from there to Mylan Park) – the TIF district being in the province of the now former Scotts Run PSD. Some people or some entities apparently wanted that massive amount of money and control for the next 3 decades to be taken out of the hands of the people of Scotts Run, who cannot seem to ever be pillaged enough to satisfy the local powers and string pullers.
Apparently the Monongalia County Commission did not want to work with the people of Scotts Run, let alone fund the Scotts Run PSD, which would have had the responsibility for making the infrastructure upgrades that the commission intends to and must fund in the TIF district in the near future and for the next 3 decades.
Scotts Run PSD might have reasonably used the influx of TIF funds to necessarily build up its organizational and material capacity and to also negotiate with the County Commission over funding and materials for a needed expansion of Scotts Run PSD sewer services to far flung Scotts Run area residents, beyond the TIF district. Quite possibly the County Commission did not want to be beholden to the Scotts Run Public Service District which has residents with more pressing needs than can be found anywhere in the County Commission’s “ballpark TIF” district – that scandalous local taxpayer gift to WVU and private commerce.
It seems that a lot has been going on behind closed doors in Monongalia County against the public’s interest, and possibly in stark violation of open government “sunshine” laws. What a shock. On the other hand, when the good old boys meet up one on one around town while appointing each other to public boards that then dissolve public entities out of existence – thereby gutting the public, shifting millions of dollars and badly needed organizational capacity away from the people – that’s certainly another method by which governmental transparency laws can be sneaked around, keeping all sorts of private wheelings and dealings secret from the public.
The lifting of the Scotts Run PSD data on computer hard drives this past October by the County Commission-chummy Scotts Run PSD board members ostensibly for security reasons was a curious episode in this hit and run farce, to say the least. Security from whom? Securing the public’s information from the public? Why remove the Scotts Run PSD data ostensibly to “secure” it mere months before dissolving the PSD and handing it over to MUB under the cool gaze of the County Sheriff’s department? Why remove and “secure” that Scott’s Run PSD data in October 2012? To prepare a slick transfer of Scotts Run PSD operations to MUB months before the public could have any clue of what was being done to them?
These particular individuals, officials, and agencies should be held to account as much as possible. The people of Scotts Run are doing the right thing in trying to reverse the shady dissolution of the Scotts Run PSD by acting first at the local level and now at the state and possibly judicial levels. Failing at those levels, Scotts Run PSD residents would be in a much weakened position to gain expanded sewerage on their own, suddenly absent their own PSD, let alone to negotiate with either MUB or the County Commission expansion of needed sewerage services to the Scotts Run area. Virtually all the local municipalities and powers have a both long and recent history of not only failing the Scotts Run area but of plundering it.
Meanwhile, the County Commissioners are subject to election (as is of course the Morgantown City Council) and could be replaced and should be pressured to do more for Scotts Run area residents. Toward this end, no matter the near term outcome, the Scotts Run PSD dissolution and takeover scandal could be and should be held over the heads of these officials and these public bodies from now on. They need to better serve and protect the public, by far, and especially the Scotts Run area, which going back nearly a century, has been both a regional and national site and symbol of social and economic neglect and abuse.
Congratulations to Morgantown and to Monongalia County. Congratulations to us all. We’ve come a long way by dissolving the Scotts Run Public Service District, and by taking over its hard won materials and capacities, and by preparing to swallow up its impending flood of TIF gold. We’ve come a long, long way.
The failure to learn to respect the dignity, let alone the organizational capacity and the would-be wealth, of the people of Scotts Run: yet another repugnant, and historical, farce.
Published in the Dominion Post today:
About fifteen years ago, in 1997, a group of citizens in the Scott’s Run area near Morgantown, West Virginia came together to provide sewerage service for many of the areas which had been without it for decades after the rest of the County had gotten service. The local service provider (MUB) had for years promised and failed to build the necessary infrastructure.
Citizens organized and informed themselves, wrote grants, contacted West Virginia State authorities, and succeeded in building the infrastructure. In time they developed to the point that they could also provide the normal maintenance and billing services as well, taking over from the larger public utility, the Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) in 2006.
Services were provided competently, quickly, and with a sense of pride and community ownership. Sewer rates were reasonable, lower than many in other parts of the county.
Then the Monongalia County Commission appointed new members to the Board. These newly appointed Board members made a series of investigations to discover wrong-doing on the part of the former Board members, without any indication that such had occurred. Several investigations instigated by the new Board yielded complete exonerations. The new Board sought to reduce health care coverage, and sought to change the providers of liability insurance, accounting, engineering, banking, postal and law services.
A grievance related to a particular action the newly appointed board took is filed with the PSC (case # 12-1597-PSD-C). One of the board members, J. Tennant, has been convicted in a March hearing of disorderly conduct related to the physical harassment of a PSD employee. Another member of the board, J. Morris, does not reside in the district and is therefore barred from being a board-member by state statute (. Members of the district will be filing a second grievance by the end of the coming week, related to the secret sale of PSD assets.
In the last week, they have revealed a decision to consolidate all materials, maintenance, billing, and accounts with MUB.
Scott’s Run Public Service District has, for the month of April:
General Fund $240,000.00
Tap Fund $16,000.00
Customer Deposits $23,000.00
Development Fund $21,000.00
Bond Sinking Funds $264,000.00
Property, Plant and Equipment $17 million
The SRPSD services 18 pump stations. It is a viable, useful, community service provider located in the heart of the District which it serves.
On May 15, the employees were summarily fired, and the contents of the garage have been confiscated by the Morgantown Utility Board. Yet, a public meeting to decide to consolidate with MUB had not yet occurred, and the three levels of required approval, at the City, County and State levels had NOT yet occurred. It is apparent from the order in which events have occurred that at least Sunshine laws have been violated. It is possible that public services have been put to the use of private interests.
The reason for a precipitously speedy push to consolidate has been “to assure continuity of service”. Yet the discontinuity occurred when all the materials to run the operation, along with computers and office equipment, were taken from the garage. Without any public input. The justification for this is that the Board of Directors has the legal capacity to enter into sales agreements by a 2/3’s vote (WV Code Chapter 16 Article 13A-18a). However, the sale was apparently completed on May 15, as all assets were removed from the SRPSD office and garage on that day. The proviso in 16-13A-18a requires “That such sale, leasing or rental; may be made only upon: (1) The publication of notice of a hearing before the board of the public service district, as a Class l legal advertisement in compliance with the provision of article three, chapter fifty-nine of this code, in a newspaper published and of general circulation in the county or counties wherein the district is located, such publication to be made not earlier than twenty days and not later than seven days prior to the hearing; (2) approval by the county commission or commissions of the county or counties in which the district operates; and (3) approval by the public service commission of West Virginia.
No notice of the action appeared in any publication. The county commission in question, Monongalia County Commission, met on May 29; it had no vote for the approval for a sale of assets, and the vote to approve an agreement to merge was tabled due to a question about the legal constitution of the Scott’s Run PSD board of directors. Although Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) met and approved the consolidation/merger agreement, and notified the PSC before the county commission met, the Public Service Commission has not met, to approve either the sales agreement or the agreement to consolidate/merge Scott’s Run PSD with MUB.
Does that mean that a any public entity, say, the local library, or MUB itself could possibly be managed in the interests of the Board members after being created by citizens’ voluntary efforts?
When a board operates in conflict to the interests and purposes of the people it supposed to serve, to whom may the people turn? The County commission, who appointed the board say it is not their responsibility. The Public Service Commission, who regulate utilities in the state say it is not their responsibility. The citizens of Scott’s Run are now asking, to whom can we turn for justice?
Please join me in protesting a violation of public trust, and an undermining of community initiative, as the citizens of Scott’s Run resist this evasion of due process and lack of transparency in government actions. Help us to persuade the Commissioners of Monongalia County and the leadership of the Morgantown Utility Board to hear us out and to allow a new Board to consider consolidation in a more rational and considered fashion.
All of the “Ballpark TIF” district falls within the (former) Scotts Run Public Service District:
Below, information on The WVU “Ballpark TIF” plan scandal. In relation to the Scotts Run PSD scandal, though the mechanisms vary, the theme remains the same: fleece the public.