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Martinsburg mayor, 83, to seek fifth term

Journal photo George Karos
Journal photo
George Karos

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — George Karos will run for a fifth term as mayor of Martinsburg.

“I said I had not made up my mind to run again -well, I made up my mind,” Karos told The Journal on Monday. “I talked with my family over the weekend and I am going to run.”

Karos, 83, was elected to his first four-year term as mayor of Martinsburg in 2000. Before that, he served 40 years as an at-large councilman.

He recently sold Patterson’s Drug Store, which he had owned and operated for 35 years.

Karos gave several reasons to run again. Essentially, he wants to see through several projects the city has started in the past few years.

“We need to complete the MS4 project – we have no choice,” he said. “It is too detailed, too time consuming for our department heads to handle and do their own jobs. We need to hire someone to conduct the MS4 project.”

MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Martinsburg has been designated a MS4 community by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection by authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s powers under the Clean Water Act.

As a MS4 community, Martinsburg must implement a stormwater management plan. The city is in the fourth year of its second five-year plan. It recently submitted the draft of its next five-year plan.

Last month, the city completed the Stormwater Financing and Outreach Study to see if the city is complying with its MS4 permit, and, if not, what it would take to comply with the permit.

Conducted by GKY and Associates Inc., the study’s recommendation was for the city to create a stormwater management utility to implement its stormwater management plan and to fund the utility through a stormwater management fee, which is allowed by state code.

Now, the city’s stormwater management program is implemented by staff from the city’s engineering department, water and sewer department, and public works department. The funding for the program comes from the city’s general fund.

Continuing with his reasons for running, Karos said, “I put a great deal of faith and stock in the Garner strategic economic development plan. We need to hire a Martinsburg economic development director, who will increase business and increase jobs for Martinsburg. I want to follow the plan letter by letter. It will be a plus for the citizens of Martinsburg.”

Adopted by City Council members in February 2014, “Rebirth, Renewal & Reinvention: A Transformational Economic Development Strategy for the City of Martinsburg” makes 28 recommendations to improve Martinsburg’s economy. The plan was developed by Jay Garner, president and chief executive officer of Garner Economics LLC of Atlanta.

The No. 1 recommendation of Garner’s plan was for the city to establish its own economic development program, hire a director to manage the department and fund it with revenues from a sales tax. Not all, but most of the recommendations in the plan were predicated on Martinsburg becoming a Home Rule municipality.

The city was accepted into the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II last year. As a Home Rule city, Martinsburg can assess up to a 1 percent sales tax, which City Council members approved late last year. The additional municipal sales tax took effect July 1. City officials estimate the sales tax will generate about $2.4 million in additional revenue annually.

Karos also wants to hire an additional professional to expedite the various projects the city has undertaken.

“We presently have projects that are behind because our department heads are inundated with work,” he said. “It would provide better service for the community.”

Some of the projects that are about to begin that Karos wants to see through include renovations to the North Queen Street underpass, brownfields assessments funded with federal grants, the Caperton Train Station Corridor improvements and gateway and wayfinding signage.

“And we need to do something with the American Legion building,” he said. “It’s been on the back burner long enough. We need to put it on the front burner and build a new judicial center and make upgrades to city hall.”

The city bought the American Legion post that sits behind city hall several years ago with the intent to build a new city judicial center and police station. The project was put on hold when the recession hit in 2008.

“These are large, detailed, expensive projects, but we need to move them forward,” Karos said.

Martinsburg’s elections for mayor and all the council seats are in June 2016.

– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128.

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