Paul Miller, policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, and Rick Wilson, of the American Friends Service Committe, WV Economic Justice Project, spoke the Tyler County commissioners last Tuesday morning concerning the creation of a permanent mineral trust fund for the state of West Virginia.
The "future fund" legislation which is being contemplated is an attempt to replace non-renewable natural resources revenue which would bolster the state's economy. This fund would help even out the "boom and bust" of energy-based sales by levying a severance tax on such sales, such as the WV Coal Severance Tax.
"Most permanent mineral trust funds are protected through legislation and the principal of the fund cannot be accessed without a public vote," explained Miller. "Depending on the state, the principal is invested according to legislative dictate or selections made by the investing body."
Citing Alaska as an example of the funds benefits, Miller told commission the income of the fund since 1976 in that state totaled over 40 billion dollars.
"A permanent future fund would convert non-renewable resource wealth into a renewable source of wealth for generations to come," said Miller.
"This issue is currently being discussed in Charleston," Miller continued. "We are here to provide you with information so you may advocate for your county's benefit in regards to the implementation of the fund."
"Who's going to control it?" asked County Commissioner John Stender. "Will all 55 counties share in it equally?"
Miller explained that such decisions would be up to the legislature to decide, and encouraged the commission to closely monitor the progress of legislation for the fund.
"We think this policy has a lot of merit. We also think the local counties should be involved in the decision-making process," Miller added.
"The local companies are in favor of the bill," said commissioner Charles "Pork" Smith, "but not in favor of increasing the severance tax. There has been some talk of raising the taxes to recoup the money lost in the last 100 years from the exportation of our resources," he added, saying, "That's not going to happen."
Commissioners thanked their guests for their informative presentation before continuing with the meeting's agenda. County Assessor Jack Hayes informed commissioners he had recently been appointed as legislative chairperson for Marcellus Shale by the WV Assessor's Association.
Commissioners appointed Philip J. Bowser to the position of fiduciary commissioner for Tyler County; and re-appointed Sistersville General Hospital CEO Brian Lowther to the Northern Panhandle Workforce Investment Board. Also approved by commission was the appointment of Julie Schleier to the NPWIB as a private sector representative.
Toni VanCamp requested commission act as fiscal agent for the VOCA grant which funds her position of Victims Services Coordinator and noted there would have to be some revisions made to the budget she had previously presented to commission. Commissioners voted to act as agent.
Sheriff Earl P. "Bob" Kendle, Jr. spoke to commissioners concerning the recently held Bullring Bonanza event and said, "The weekend went very well. People who attended from out of the area were very nice and were impressed with the facilities, indicating they would be back for further events."
"I believe the race weekend was the biggest single event in the history of Tyler County," commented County Commissioner Eric Vincent. "I'm glad to hear it went well."
Commission also approved the reduction of the county election board from two to one, in all precincts. "This is mostly because of the hardship in trying to find poll workers," explained County Clerk Teresea Hamilton. "The introduction of electronic voting means we need less people, as well."
Budget revisions, exonerations, minutes of the previous meeting and clerk's fiduciary report were all approved by commissioners, as well as payment of bills.
In his report to commission, Pork Smith informed members that Emily Wells had been hired for part time summer work in the tax office and that Linda Fitzsimmons had submitted a letter announcing her upcoming retirement as Deputy Circuit Clerk.
Smith also noted that Teen Court in Tyler County had been disbanded and that fees for the court would cease to be charged for the program. Any funds remaining will be dispersed to Family Resource Network, he added.
Renewal of the County's Risk Pool package was tabled until the next meeting per Smith's suggestion and the meeting adjourned.