NEW CUMBERLAND – The Hancock County Commission agreed Wednesday to seek declaratory action concerning the use of levy funds from previous years set for support of the Hancock County Animal Shelter.
The authorization, approved unanimously during a special commission meeting Wednesday morning, stems from a dispute over the use of prior levy funds when the county animal shelter was overseen by the non-profit Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation. The commission took over full operation of the shelter in 2016.
Assistant County Prosecutor Mike Lucas clarified the action will focus on remaining levy funds from the 2008 and 2012 animal shelter levies, and will not involve the 2016 levy as was previously reported.
“This is what we believe is the closest we can get to a refund,” Lucas said, explaining the plan had been developed following conversations with officials from the state Attorney General’s Office, the state Auditor’s Office and various county offices.
In 2017, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an opinion that the unused funds be returned to the taxpayers of Hancock County, noting the foundation could no longer receive the money as it was not operating the shelter, and the county had made no provision for use of the funds if the foundation was no longer involved.
Lucas said there are approximately $301,000 in unused levy revenue being sought as part of the action, with the plan to use those funds in place of collecting the current shelter levy.
“The county would simply stop collection of the current levy,” Lucas said. “There’s no double-dipping by the county.”
Lucas explained if the county were to attempt a direct refund of those unused funds, it would require bidding the work to an outside agency, and may cost the county more than the $301,000 being sought.
Commissioner Jeff Davis, prior to voting, offered his support for the proposal.
“I think this is a fair way of handling it without spending additional taxpayer dollars,” Davis said.
Commission President Paul Cowey agreed, saying the important thing is to make certain the county animal shelter continues to receive support.
“It’s always about the animals,” Cowey said.
Early in the meeting, Weirton resident Rudy Rosnick addressed the commission over the levy funds, accusing them of a lack of transparency over the issue and encouraging them to speak with the foundation and the public.
“It does not have to be a confrontation,” he said.
In other business Wednesday, the commission approved a request from New Cumberland Mayor Will White III for $40,000 to assist with the replacement of water lines on Still Street and Brickyard Bend Road in the New Cumberland Heights area.
Davis explained the City of New Cumberland had begun a water line replacement project, but prices came in higher than anticipated requiring additional funds.
“Still Street has a 2-inch water line that was installed decades ago. It’s almost completely sealed off,” he said, noting residents often have to call each other in order to coordinate water usage in their homes.
The commission also:
• Approved a contract with Edmiston LLC for grant writing services, at a cost of $14,500 for one year and to cover 20 grant submissions. The proposal was tabled at the last regular commission meeting.
• Approved a revision to the county’s Coal Severance budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, with an addition of $4,000 from the 2020-21 budget carryover.
• Approved a payment of $15,000 to Sheriff Joseph Gittings to serve as commission for the 2020 tax year.
(Howell can be contacted at email@example.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)