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Upshur officials torn over association membership

      

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — Elected Upshur County officials plan to use money from their own budgets so the county can continue membership in the West Virginia Association of Counties, officials said Monday.

The Upshur County Commission recently decided not to renew membership with the organization, which lobbies for counties at the state level. In addition to lobbying the state Legislature, the Association’s executive director represents West Virginia counties on a number of boards ranging from the Governor’s Committee on Crime Delinquency and Corrections to the West Virginia University Extension Advisory Committee.

Association Director Patti Hamilton recently attempted to encourage commissioners to change their minds about the decision not to renew the county’s membership. She was joined by County Clerk Debbie Thacker Wilfong, who said the Association provides valuable resources for member counties.

“We all benefit from it. That’s how we get our news from around the state about what’s happening in county government. They help with legislative issues and everything else,” Thacker Wilfong said.

Though the commission remained steadfast in its decision not to renew, Thacker Wilfong said the individual elected county officers will pick up the tab for the $5,000 in annual dues to the organization. The dues are normally paid out of the county’s general fund by the commission, she said.

Thacker Wilfong said it was her understanding that Upshur County would be the only county in the state that wouldn’t be a member if officials let the membership lapse.

The offices paying for the dues include the Sheriff’s Department, Circuit Clerk, Assessor, County Clerk and Prosecuting Attorney.

Though the commission isn’t paying the dues, it will still receive full membership in the organization, Hamilton said.

“Full dues are full dues. We wouldn’t exclude (the commission),” she said.

Commissioners recently said the Association’s structure often puts county commissioners at odds with other elected county officials.

“It seems like all the disagreements and conflicts are between all the other elected officials and the county commissioners,” Commissioner Donnie Tenney said. “A lot of effort was made to make it so that the majority rules and the majority is always going to rule against the county commission.”

Tenney said issues often arise because county commissions fund the other elected offices. It would be better if there was separate representation.

“I think the best thing would be for the County Commissioners Association to be a standalone organization and the West Virginia Association of Counties serve the other elected officials. Then there wouldn’t be any conflicts,” Tenney said.

Hamilton said she would hate to lose Upshur County as a member because the county is very active in the Association.

Members of the county government are often involved with Association functions and take an active role making sure their voices are heard at the state level.

“Many counties are not as active. I’d really like to keep Upshur County as a member,” she said.

Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady said several of the county’s elected officials encouraged him to change his mind about renewing the county’s membership with the Association. He said that he heard good things about the organization’s work. However, he believes the Association does not directly benefit county commissions.

Hamilton disagreed, saying, “I actually think we do a lot for commissions; it just may not be as direct.”

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