Panel To Decide Grant Recipients Aug. 15

The Charleston Gazette

By Phil Kabler, STAFF WRITER

Charleston (Thursday, July 17, 2003)

Members of the newly reconstituted Economic Development Grant Committee set an aggressive timetable Wednesday that will have them voting to certify projects for funding on Aug. 15.

“That’s the absolute mathematical quickest we can get it done,” said Tax and Revenue Secretary Brian Kastick, elected Wednesday as committee chairman.

That’s because the legislation passed July 1 requires 14 days advance notice for a public hearing on the grant applications and a 10-day period after the hearing for the public to submit written comments on the projects.

Committee members scheduled the public hearing for 7 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Cultural Center.

Kastick said that, under the new timetable, the estimated $240 million of video-lottery revenue bonds could go to market in late September — assuming any additional legal challenges to the grant committee process are resolved by then.

Members of the nine-member panel took one step Wednesday to speed up the process, rejecting a proposal by Kastick that the committee accept new applications for a brief period.

David Hofstetter said he was concerned that even a brief window of time to file new applications could lead to long delays. He recalled that last year, the committee expected a few dozen applications — and received nearly 200 funding requests.

“When we first opened up the project requests, no one expected 197 to come in,” he said.

David Satterfield, who serves on the committee as state Economic Development executive director, said he is concerned that some of the projects under consideration cannot survive additional delay.

“The thing that worries me most is that we need to move with urgency, because the private markets and funding is what’s fleeting,” he said.

Committee member Bernard Twigg agreed, noting, “We have a number of projects that are extremely time-sensitive.”

Wednesday’s action means the committee will consider only the 190 applications still active from the original July 1, 2002, filing deadline.

Under the legislation, any funds not allocated by the grant committee would go into an economic-development loan fund to be administered by the state Council for Community and Economic Development.

As he did when the original grant committee first met on April 8, 2002, Gov. Bob Wise opened the first meeting of the reconstituted committee, urging the panel to work “very thoroughly and very quickly.”

“This is the largest single economic development package in the state’s history, and it’s in your hands,” he said.

Wise praised the Legislature for acting quickly to pass legislation intended to bring the committee into compliance with a May state Supreme Court decision.

Ruling on a lawsuit filed by the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the court upheld the constitutionality of using revenue from video lottery bonds to fund the grants. It ruled, however, that the grant committee had been improperly impanelled, since six of the nine members were appointed from lists of nominees submitted by the Senate president and House speaker.

The new panel — all directly appointed by Wise — includes only one new member. Scott Rotruck of Morgantown replaced Dan Moore of Williamson, who declined to serve on the new committee for personal reasons.

The attorney who represented CAG in that lawsuit, Larry Harless, filed suit last month against the state Lottery, challenging the constitutionality of video lottery statewide.

That lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality, but Harless has vowed to refile it.

Also Wednesday, the committee began the lengthy task of reviewing each of the active grant applications, including 36 that filed amended applications earlier this month.

The committee will meet again July 28, and July 29 if necessary, to complete that review.