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.

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