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Martinsburg closing in on early Sunday alcohol sales

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The City of Martinsburg is one step closer to joining the list of home rule municipalities in the Eastern Panhandle to allow alcohol sales at 10 a.m. on Sundays, as the city council members have approved an amendment to the city’s home rule application.

The “Brunch Bill” passed during the 2016 West Virginia legislative session permits each of the state’s 55 counties to put the issue of selling alcohol on Sunday mornings up for voter referendum.

While the county commissions in the Panhandle are seeking to put the item on the general election ballot in November, municipalities with a home rule status can use their sovereignty to create ordinances permitting alcoholic beverage to be sold before 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Shepherdstown has already enacted Sunday morning alcohol sales, due to a provision in the town’s application to the home rule board. Though Martinsburg did not include a specific section related to Sunday alcohol sales in its home rule application, the city could be the next municipality to enact the change.

Legal counsel Kin Sayre said the amendment to the city’s home rule application would only apply to Class A-licensed establishments licensed by the West Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration. Class A establishments include bars and restaurants, and Sayre said the amendment would allow alcohol to be sold at 10 a.m. on Sundays for on-premises consumption only, meaning there would be no Sunday morning sales of alcohol at convenience stores or other retail establishments.

Another, related ordinance amends the city’s code to establish a minimum distance between Class A-licensed facilities and churches and schools.

The West Virginia ABCA requires establishments licensed to sell alcohol must be located at least 300 feet away from the entrances to schools and churches.

At the council’s May 12 meeting, the council members voted to keep the distance requirement of 300 feet away from schools but reduce the distance requirement for churches to 50 feet. The reasoning was the near proximity of churches to businesses along Queen Street in the city’s historic district.

Both measures were approved unanimously by the council.

Sayre said the home rule board will meet on July 11, and if the board approves the amendments, the ordinance will become effective.

In other council news:

Residents of Martinsburg and Berkeley County, as well as library staff and volunteers, flooded the council meeting, using the citizens’ petitions portion of the meeting to make the council aware of what they say is a “hostile situation” at the Martinsburg Public Library. Many of the speakers spoke negatively about the library’s recently-appointed director, Sheridan Montgomery, saying she is responsible for throwing away approximately 30,000 books in the library’s collection and firing longtime employees for disagreeing with her. Several speakers said the library’s board is “doing nothing” and asked the city council to take action.

Steve Knipe, director of the Martinsburg water and sewer department, gave an update on the Big Springs Water Treatment Facility, which was closed on May 19 due to a change in the EPA’s maximum allowable levels for two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS. Knipe said the city’s Kilmer Springs plant has been used to supply residents of the city with water since the closing of the Big Springs plant, and will continue to be the city’s primary source of water. He said the city, along with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the local Air National Guard, are continuing to test streams and wells near the Big Springs plant, though results have not come back at this time. The city may look into finding another source of water to reduce the strain on the Kilmer Springs plant, Knipe said.

The council approved an animal control agreement with the Berkeley County Council, which states the county will provide animal control services to the city for $117,500 a year. In the past, the city of Martinsburg had a memorandum of understanding with the county for animal control services, provided to the city at a cost of $90,000 each year for the past three years. The city council did not sign the memorandum of understanding for fiscal year 2016-2017 at first because the county raised the cost of service.

Mayor George Karos issued a statement on behalf of the council regarding the drug problem in Martinsburg. Karos said the city will focus on law enforcement, treatment of addiction, and prevention of drug use. He said the city’s police officers are working closely with the Berkeley County Board of Education to educate students and parents about drug abuse. The council supports the creation of a drug treatment facility, Karos said.

Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-263-8931 ext. 138 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.

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