Court: Shelter Levy Vote Was Allowed

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled Hancock County commissioners were within their authority to place a levy that funds the Hancock County Animal Shelter before voters in last year.

A unanimous court denied an appeal by David Cline seeking to overturn Circuit Judge David Sims’ order dismissing the Weirton resident’s challenge of the property tax levy, which accounts for $100,000 of the $275,000 county taxpayers will contribute to the animal shelter this year.

He had argued the levy supports a private humane society whose mission goes beyond the public’s statutory obligation to deal with stray animals.

The private, non-profit Hancock County Animal Shelter Inc. operates the shelter, located on Gas Valley Road near New Manchester. It bills itself as a “low-kill” animal shelter, and accepts animals that residents voluntarily surrender in addition to fulfilling its contract with the county to handle animals seized by the dog warden.

The justices recalled a 2011 ruling that said county commissions, “are vested with a wide discretion in the superintendence and administration of the internal police and fiscal affairs of their counties” in their Oct. 4 opinion upholding Sims’ ruling in the Cline case.

“I have a real issue with that,” Cline said.

Armed with the signatures of 43 other Hancock County taxpayers, Cline – a former county commissioner – had filed for a “writ of supersedeas” to rescind the levy, which 65 percent of voters approved on May 8, 2012.

But Sims ruled that concerns with the operation of the shelter should be addressed to the county commission, not the court system.

Cline, who has undertaken his challenge of the levy without the benefit of legal representation, said he is preparing to file a petition for rehearing with the high court. However, the Rules of Appellate Procedure state the justices only grant such petitions in “exceptional cases,” and Cline acknowledges it’s a long shot.

In the meantime, he said he’s taking Sims’ advice by continuing to correspond with commissioners regarding his concerns.