MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — County commissioners from across West Virginia are wrapping up their annual meeting in Charleston, timed to coincide with the start of the legislative session. But the growing eastern panhandle is participating in the meeting with a sense of urgency.
Before the next Census, Berkeley County could be West Virginia’s most populous. While West Virginia overall is losing population — it even lost a third of its congressional delegation in the last census — the eastern panhandle is booming.
“Infrastructure is a huge concern to Berkeley County,” says Doug Copenhaver, Jr. president of the Berkeley County Council. “Traffic congestion – we desperately continue to try to work with the Department of Highways on that.”
And if resources weren’t so scarce, Copenhaver could easily take a hefty chunk of the total state budget for needs in his county alone.
“Infrastructure,” says Copenhaver, “I tell our local legislators we could use a billion dollars on local infrastructure alone. And they’ll agree. But it’s just that everybody’s fighting for that piece of pie.”
And with all the growth, Copenhaver is concerned about public safety.
“One of the big things is trying to get more state troopers allocated to the eastern panhandle,” says Copenhaver. “We’re understaffed. No-fault of our local detachment. But we’re probably a third, well, we’re probably two-thirds understaffed.”
The challenge for Copenhaver is getting those in the state capital to appreciate a problem: growth that is lacking in virtually every other West Virginia community.
“We’re a growing county,” says Copenhaver. “We continually have to have resources to stay that way, which is completely different.”
Berkeley County even has a paid lobbyist on retainer to track what’s going on in Charleston. And West Virginia voters can expect a referendum on their ballot this coming November to lower personal property taxes. If it passes, that would include what motorists would pay for their purchases of cars and trucks. Property taxes are also a major concern to commissioners across the state to fund jails and allocate federal funds under the American Rescue Plan.