None of the Sistersville council seat races are contested, even though there are more than one contestants in some wards. This is because some are running for election to fulfill terms vacated by resignations, some temporarily filled by appointment.
In the First Ward, Harold Dally is seeking an unexpired two-year term and incumbent Councilman Richard Long will run for a full four-year term.
Councilman Mitch Corley of the Second Ward maintains his position because his term does not expire until the next election; however, a council seat will remain open in the Second Ward following the election. Carolyn Forester has filed as a write-in candidate for that two-year term. However, Mayor Ann Doig said it has been determined that Forester does not live in the Second Ward. Consequently, she is ineligible and her seat will need to be filled by appointment after the election.
Bill Rice and Beri Jean Fox are seeking to serve as Sistersville's mayor.
Incumbent Third Ward councilmen Phil Konopacky and Mark Klages, who were appointed in December, will run for the two available seats-Klages for a two-year term and Konopacky for a four-year term.
Bonnie Hizer is running for the four-year term available in the Fourth Ward. There is also a two-year term on the ballot. Rachel Marrin registered as a write-in candidate or that seat.
Also on the ballot is a vote for or against the city's five-year levy that supports the fire department, library, park and pool, and streets. This is a continuance of a levy already in place, so if it passes it will not increase residents' taxes.
There is, however, a slight change in distribution of the levy's proceeds. While it was previously split evenly, Doig explained that the streets department receives some income from municipal bill fees, the other departments do not. Consequently, the proceeds will now be 25 percent (approximately $74,285) to the fire department, 25 percent (approximately $74,285) to the library, 35 percent (approximately $99,795) to the park and pool, and 15 percent (approximately $42,270) to streets.
The polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. Polling places are as follows: First Ward, Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department; Second Ward, Oxford Street Church of Christ Annex; Third Ward, City Hall; and Fourth Ward, Methodist Church.
The only contested race on the ballot is for mayor. It is being sought by current councilman Bill Rice and political newcomer Beri Jean Fox.
The Tyler Star News asked each mayoral candidate four questions. Their biographies and answers are as follows, in alphabetical order.
Beri Jean Fox, a lifelong resident of Sistersville, is the daughter of the late Roger and Jean Howdyshell. She grew up here with her sister Sally and brothers C.R., Roger, and Brian, and chose to raise her family here.
"I am a member of the Sistersville Elks Lodge #333 and co-founder and president of the Sistersville General Hospital Foundation," said Fox. Community service includes the SES Parent Teacher's Organization, Youth League Cheerleading advisor, Local School Improvement Councils, Partners in Education, and the Women's Giving Circle. Fox represents Tyler/Wetzel counties on two boards in Wheeling. She serves on the West Virginia Manufactur-ers Association's Board and is a member of the WV Chamber of Commerce. Fox chaired WVU's "Industries of the Future" Glass Group for 10 years.
"I feel blessed to have been honored as a Sistersville High School Distinguished Alumni in 2002, and to have received the 2011 'American Made Hero' Award, for advocacy efforts in supporting American manufacturing nationwide," she said.
"I am seeking the office of Sistersville Mayor to bring the experience I have gained in business and community service to that office and to help benefit our city through the many contacts I have gained in state and federal government and community foundations," explained Fox.
Born in Sistersville in 1960, Bill Rice is a life-long resident of the city, a former mayor, and an 11-year member of the city council representing the Second Ward. He says the love for his hometown is the guiding factor in his decision to run again for the mayor's seat.
In 1995, Rice was elected to the Sistersville City Council and served until 2002. He then was elected mayor in 2002 and held the office for four years. In 2010, Rice felt the call to return to civic service again. He again was elected to the Second Ward seat on council and has served on a number of committees for the town. Rice hopes to give voice to those who feel disenfranchised with local government.
He is married to the former Teresa Cowgill and together they have three children: Amanda, Jason, and Joshua. Rice worked at the Ormet Corporation as a laborer and in a salaried supervisory position, overseeing front line supervisors and approximately 100 shift employees.
Rice served on the Sistersville Volunteer Fire Department for 25 years, holding positions of President, Captain, and Assistant Chief in Fire Ground Operations. He also served as president of the local Lions Club.
Tyler Star News: Many residents have vocalized complaints about the city's water bills. Could you propose any changes that would meet their concerns?
Fox: I plan to address water bill concerns in four steps:
I will begin by learning how our water bills compare to other, similar sized communities in West Virginia and how we can assure an accurate billing system.
Since city water fees are overseen by the West Virginia Public Service Commission (WVPSC), I will learn what factors determined the WVPSC's rate decision for Sistersville and share that information with our citizens.
I will work with city council to take whatever action might result in a WVPSC rate ruling more favorable to our city water customers.
I will continuously look for sources of federal and state funding and technical assistance to allow us to modernize our water system to reduce the amount of water lost from our 100-year-old system. This will reduce our "per gallon" operating cost and make a case for the WVPSC to consider approving a rate reduction.
Rice: We do have a very old water system, which can be problematic. That being said, our city Water Department and City Crews have worked very hard to maintain the plant and water lines as well as they possibly can, while also striving to be economically sound about it.
Vocalized complaints become even louder when the city does not listen and simply treats the symptoms of a problem rather than finding a cure. In that regard, I will turn over every stone to insure that we make any productive and economic changes we can. I will review the current system and do everything possible to cut costs without reducing service. While the current rates were mandated, we still have options to explore. As a city, we must make sure that our citizens get the most bang for their buck.
Also, when a billing mistake does occur, we need to be fast and thorough to correct the situation. We should also fix any glitches in our system and make sure that those who have wrongfully paid too much are reimbursed. I must also point out that the city has a deferred payment plan in place.
Tyler Star News: What would you do with a $10,000 gift to the city if it was completely up to you, and why would you use it in that manner?
Fox: I would use a portion of the gift on the chair lift and access points necessary to open the Sistersville City Pool this summer, as required by state and federal law. Why? Because our public pool is such an important part of our community and provides healthy activity for our city's children and their families. I believe one of the best investments we can make is in providing healthy and safe activities for our young people.
I would use the remaining funds to purchase a vertical platform lift for the City Building to make it handicap accessible. Products are readily available which could provide the best possible solution to making the City Building handicap accessible without the high expense of making alterations to the structure of the City Building, while preserving its beauty and place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rice: I would never have the power to spend a $10,000 gift fund unless council approved such a measure. If council did leave it completely up to me, I would meet with various city committees and encourage citizens to speak up at meetings about what they think is needed. I would not take anyone's input lightly.
With that in mind, one of the things I would personally like to see is a lift chair that must be purchased for the pool before it can open (as mandated by the American's with Disability Act). Although our new Park and Pool Board is handling that well, and I believe they may already have a lift chair coming, I would like to put their needs first. The park plays a pivotal role in our community, so perhaps much of that $10,000 could go toward establishing a "rainy day" fund for the park. The new board is doing great, and we should support them.
If the Park and Pool Board agreed, we could possibly use some of that funding to start necessary repairs in the old high school gym. That way more events could be hosted there and benefit the community.
Tyler Star News: Do you support the idea of retaining two garbage pick up days per week in Sistersville? Explain.
Fox: Our city garbage crew does a great job. It is my understanding that landfill tipping fees are charged to the city by the ton, so landfill fees remain the same, assuming there would not be an increase in the amount of garbage generated by each household per week.
Any practical saving on fuel costs resulting from reducing trips to the landfill from two per week to one would be offset by the greater weight load being hauled in the garbage truck once a week. Larger load weights would also place more strain on the truck and reduce its useful life.
There are other issues to consider. The appearance of our community is important. The longer the trash remains at our homes, the more likely a stray animal will find a way into it. There are sanitary concerns to consider, especially in the summer, including rodent control.
Based on these reasons, and past evaluation of this subject, I support retaining two garbage pickups per week.
Rice: A few years ago I proposed cutting it back to one day a week, but since then I've come to realize that most of the citizens want to continue with garbage pick-ups two days a week. As I have stated before, if that's what the citizens want and if they don't mind paying for it, I am in favor of keeping that system the way it is.
I also want to point out that the service of our Sanitation Department is well regarded by the citizens of this town. The workers go above and beyond for the people, and it shows. If the weather is bad or a holiday changes their schedule, they make sure the word gets out there, even by submitting the revised pick-up dates to be printed on the front page of the Tyler Star News.
The entire crew has really impressed me, so I wouldn't think of interfering with their work. Why would I try to fix something that's not broken? The Sanitation Department's budget continues to look good, so they are definitely working within their means and doing a great job.
Tyler Star News: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Sistersville and how would you go about conquering it?
Fox: I feel the biggest challenge facing Sistersville right now is the division within the community.
My first priority, if elected, is to focus on creating unity in this community and in city government. There are important issues facing our community.
We need to develop a sound and realistic city budget.
We need to aggressively address our water and sewer infrastructure problems for the long term.
We need to encourage positive public input and support for city government's efforts to improve the quality of life in our community.
We need to continue to support the creation and growth of businesses within our city.
When people work together to reach common goals a lot can be accomplished. I believe it is especially important at this time to elect a mayor who has business experience and who can provide the skills and desire necessary to help restore greater confidence and trust in our city government.
I believe Sistersville needs a mayor who looks for opportunities to create a better future for Sistersville, while protecting and preserving the positive qualities that make our city special. I believe it's time for Sistersville to take new approaches to address old problems.
Rice: The biggest challenge facing Sistersville right now is the lack of trust between people and the city government, as well as between council and the mayor. Too many recent decisions have been made behind closed doors with only a select number of council members or city officials knowing about the situations or their extent. Much of that failure to communicate was documented in the Tyler Star News during the past year. The best thing a city can do to avoid negative publicity is to handle things aboveboard. That's the only way to insure that your elected officials are working for you and have the town's best interest in mind.
When I'm mayor, I want to make sure that everyone is informed about the workings of their city government. It will be open and welcoming to the people of our town and the surrounding community, which has a vested interest here. Many people from our neighboring districts work here, shop here, have family here, and are customers of the City of Sistersville's water system. They may not be able to vote, but they are still a valued part of this community and should be treated like it.