Regional councils could be merged

Dept. of Commerce considering consolidation

BUCKHANNON — Region VII Planning and Development Council could be consolidated with Region VI, making a council that would serve 13 counties.

The West Virginia Department of Commerce has proposed reducing regional planning and development councils from 11 in the state to seven.

At Region VII’s quarterly meeting Monday, executive director Shane Whitehair said Region VII and Region VI together would have 75 local governments.

“It almost triples as far as representation when you merge the two together,” he said.

Region VII covers Upshur, Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Randolph and Tucker counties. Region VI consists of Mon, Marion, Harrison, Doddridge, Preston and Taylor counties.

The merger would be the largest geographical area of any of the other proposed regional planning and development councils, according to Whitehair.

Region VII staff learned of the proposal in mid-September and a special meeting was called to discuss it with Region VII board members.

At that Sept. 22 meeting, the board voted to oppose the proposal as presented with a caveat that they would be willing to reconsider after further discussion, questions and dialogue between the council and Department of Commerce.   

Since that meeting, Whitehair and staff met with Commerce officials and asked many questions and raised concerns about the proposal.

“We threw out all the concerns and questions we had, but there really are no defined answers as to what kind of effect it is going to have, what kind of resources we are going to be provided in addition to what we get now,” Whitehair said. “There really is no additional information I could give to you at this point in regards to the proposed consolidation.  I don’t think they know how it is going to affect the councils.

“As I mentioned at our September meeting, I’m open to any thing that will make our communities better. That’s my responsibility. One of the biggest things that concerns me is representation ­— making sure that our communities, our small communities continue to get the attention that you need to be competitive with everyone else. Second, is the resources factor. That is the part that I would think would be easier to answer. They can’t really say at this point if or where those resources will come from. They say there is going to be more, but they can’t provide any documentation.”

“With this proposal, they want to empower regional councils with a lot more responsibility,” he added. “They want us to do a lot more, at least that is what is being presented to us. What that consists of, I’m not sure. Part of this proposal came from the disaster in 2016. They were given $150 million to complete some projects within those 12 counties declared as disaster areas. The regional councils in those 12 counties are going to get a lot of planning funds.”

The state code that created regional councils gives the governor the authority to change their configuration, according to Whitehair.

Agnes Queen, chair of Region VII, said a meeting would be scheduled soon with a committee of board members and commerce staff to continue discussion on the proposal.

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