Voters Hit the Polls

WHEELING – Melanie Madden, chief deputy in the Marshall County Clerk’s office, said no election-related problems occurred in her county this morning.

“It’s been slow and quiet and there have been no problems. That’s typical for a primary during a non-presidential election year,” Madden said.

In Ohio County, voters were heading to the polls at a steady pace in some precincts. At the Par III building in Oglebay Park, several voters were voting promptly at 6:30 a.m. when the doors opened this morning.

Voters in West Virginia’s primary election today won’t just be selecting candidates to represent their respective parties in November – they also will decide the fate of millions of dollars in annual funding for schools and public transportation, and whether a local landfill should be allowed to accept more trash.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. throughout the Mountain State. A low number of contested races on the ballot has many predicting light turnout, but those who stay home will miss their chance to weigh in on a number of important local issues.

One, a referendum on the ballot in Ohio County, would increase the Short Creek Landfill’s monthly cap for solid waste from 30,000 tons to 50,000 tons, the next-highest threshold under state law.

Demand on the landfill has increased of late, said Keith Koebley, general manager of Republic Services, the private company that operates the facility. Although he doesn’t expect the facility will hit 50,000 tons every month, he said there were three or four months last year in which the landfill reached its monthly cap and had to divert waste to another facility it owns in Imperial, Pa.

“We’ve outgrown our current cap. … We really do need this,” Koebley said.

According to information from the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board, the landfill accepted an average of 29,125 tons per month in 2011. About 20 percent of that came from out of state, but Koebley said the recent increase in demand is coming primarily from the Northern Panhandle.

Republic Services projects raising the cap would reduce the lifespan of the landfill’s 115 currently permitted acres from 31 years to 27, according to Koebley. He said the facility owns another 288 acres which it could ask the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for permission to use in the future to expand.

In addition to Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties, the landfill accepts trash from the Morgantown area; Allegheny, Greene and Washington counties in Pennsylvania; and Jefferson and Carroll counties in Ohio.

Meanwhile, voters in Wheeling, Bethlehem and McMechen will be asked to increase their support of the Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority by about 15 percent through mid-2018. The bus service expects to run at a deficit by 2017, because of a drop in federal funding and increased operating costs, including employee health insurance and a need to replace several buses, according to Executive Director Tom Hvizdos.

One OVRTA-served community where a levy will not appear today is Benwood, where city leaders said its residents can’t afford a 15-percent increase. Council members instead had approved a levy issue increasing support by 5 percent, to the chagrin of OVRTA board members who suggested that could lead to a reduction of service to that community.

Benwood leaders have decided to discuss the matter further and may put a levy on the ballot in November. The current OVRTA levy doesn’t expire until June 30, 2015.

Also appearing on ballots throughout Ohio County will be a renewal levy to fund the county’s schools for five more years. The levy would generate about $12.4 million to pay for instructional materials, equipment and services, building maintenance, salaries and benefits, support agencies and transportation.

Board of Education members have voted to keep the levy rate the same for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. That will mean more than $2 million in increased revenue because of higher property values throughout the county.

Staff Writer Shelley Hanson contributed to this report.