County commission takes up ongoing court rent dispute, recognizes essay winners

MORGANTOWN — Forgive Gabriella Garrison for arriving late to her 8th grade studies at Mountaineer Middle on Wednesday.
She had a meeting to run.
Garrison was named the winner of the Monongalia County Commission’s annual county government month essay contest.
As part of the deal she sat alongside her fellow winners — Marisa Fijewski (2nd – St. Francis) and Adeline Dering (3rd – South Middle) — in running Wednesday’s meeting, with assistance from the county commission.
There were 59 entries in the 2019 contest. Those entries were also forwarded on to the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia, which holds a statewide essay contest each April.
Of the 200 or so entries from across the state, South Middle’s Samantha Carver was selected as one of five honorable mentions.
Once down to business, the commission voted to respond to a letter from the West Virginia Supreme Court addressing its years-long dispute with the court over the cost of rent in the Monongalia County Justice Center.
State code (51-2a-20) mandates the WVSC will pay county commissions “a reasonable amount” for space provided to accommodate family court.
The county and the state stopped agreeing on the definition of “reasonable” in April 2015, when the commission informed the court that its rent would jump from $12 a square foot to $18 upon moving from the former magistrate building to the justice center. The WVSC took exception, explaining it already paid Monongalia County the highest rate in the state.
The state would end up insisting on two appraisals. The first of which ended  with the county bumping its asking price up to $20. The second, which included comparable properties in the downtown at the state’s insistence, came back at $24.90.
Since February 2016, the county has billed the WVSC at a rate of $24.50 per square foot for the 5,780 square feet used by the family court — and the court has paid $12.
WVSC Administrative Director Joseph Armstrong recently wrote to the county to explain that the rent dispute remains unresolved and the state intends to continue paying at a rate of $12.
“By code, it states what we are allowed to receive. This was calculated by their appraisal and their appraiser and came to the amount we have been charging them,” Commissioner Ed Hawkins said. “I think there should be a proper response, not acknowledging that we accept this fee as a legitimate fee, but that it should be, as stated, the $24.40 [sic].”
In other news:
— The commission received a notice from the West Virginia Department of Transportation regarding traffic delays on W.Va. Route 7 (Mason Dixon Highway) through June 15.
The delays will occur between the Wetzel County line and the junction with U.S. Route 19 and are due to  road repairs, ditching and shoulder work.
— Lynne C. Crane announced her plan to retire and thus resign as a fiduciary commissioner for the county, effective May 31.
The commission noted Crane’s resignation will leave the county with a single fiduciary commissioner and that efforts are underway to address that.
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