by Kate Shunney
West Virginia lawmakers had a full menu of meetings, tours and social events during their three-day interim meetings at Cacapon State Park this week.
Tours and meetings began on Sunday, November 13 with high-profile discussions on a new consultant’s report laying out how the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources should improve their service delivery to state residents.
Legislators discussed the newly-released report at multiple committee meetings Sunday, pressing consultants for practical recommendations to come out of the $1 million agency review.
On Monday, lawmakers spent the morning taking tours of Harper’s Ferry or downtown Berkeley Springs, then returning to Cacapon for afternoon committee sessions.
At Monday’s joint judiciary committee meeting, local State Senator Charles Trump IV (R-Morgan) joined Delegate Moore Capito (R-Kanawha) to co-chair the meeting. It opened with a report from Chelsea Ruby, Secretary of Tourism, about the state’s hefty investments in travel promotion and promising performance in capturing tourism dollars from travelers.
Ruby said she wanted legislators to understand how their budget approvals were showing results for the state. She said the Tourism Department is partnering with businesses to cross-promote regions of the state and major attractions. She said attracting large events, like international mountain biking races and diving competitions, would have spill-over effects for communities.
Successful tourism promotion has a “halo effect” for the state’s business climate and communities, said Ruby.
“This is changing the way the world sees West Virginia,” she said.
Ruby said travelers spend millions visiting the state, eating out and spending at local merchants. That leads to local jobs in hospitality, infrastructure and more. Visitors may decide to relocate here, bring a business to West Virginia or otherwise invest in the state.
Sen. Trump said he always loves to “show off” Morgan County. He asked Ruby to talk about the investment the state had made at Cacapon in particular.
Ruby noted the recent expansion of the lodge, renovations of the existing lodge space and an upcoming investment in a mountain bike trail system at the park.
“We’re seeing the impact of that in real time,” said Sen. Trump.
Ruby said Morgan County was on the few counties that saw tourism spending rise during the pandemic.
Sen. Randy Smith (R-Tucker) asked Ruby if the state had some resources to help communities where a boost in tourism was posting challenges for the local residents. Smith said Tucker County has 7,000 residents during the week but that booms to 30,000 residents on weekends as visitors come to Canaan Valley, Blackwater Falls and other attractions.
He said that flood of people has “overwhelmed” fire and EMS responders, water and sewer systems. Sen. Smith said housing is also an issue for people trying to live full-time in Tucker County.
“It’s really putting the burden on citizens,” he said.
“We want to make sure we’re supporting these communities,” Ruby told Smith.
Study of judicial seats
In other business, the judiciary committee heard about a survey of the state’s court system as it relates to the allocation of judges based on caseload and case complexity.
Keith Hoover, Deputy Director of the Office of the Administrative Director of the West Virginia Judiciary, told committee members that any adjustment to the number of Circuit Court, Family Court or Magistrate Court judges in any circuit must be proposed early in the 2023 session. That issue is currently being studied. The legislature cannot reduce the number of magistrates in the system. There are 159 magistrates working in the state’s 55 counties. Morgan County currently has two magistrates.