The question of how or when $1.3 million will be returned to the county’s Arts and Rec fund continues to find its way into the news. Two former commission members were at the commission meeting this week to air their views on the still hot topic as was one of the citizens who participated in the legal challenge to the commission’s vote to commit those funds to the pool project.
Mary Jo Sharp noted in her citizen’s commentary that the New River Community and Technical College could not begin construction on the fine arts and aquatic center until the legal issue with the county commission was settled, “but they started anyway,” she said. She went on to remark how she cannot imagine anybody not having respect for the legal system. “This is an insult to the legal system and to Judge Vickers,” Sharp stated. “Other county commission are watching this procedure.”
Commission President Karen Lobban said the commission has appointed attorney Patrick Via to send a letter to the college rejecting mediation, the resolution proposed by the college, and demanding the return of the $1.3 million. Commission member Mike McClung stated “We were promised that [the college] would not spend the funds.”
Sharp said, “This has to be finalized.” And with that she proposed to speak to New River President Washington herself as well as to Prosecutor Via.
Former Commissioner Steve Malcomb also had opinions on the issue. His solution was to bring suit against the college, stating that after letters have been sent, a stalemate exists. “So sue them,” he said.
Former Commissioner, Betty Crookshanks, rose to comment on the same topic with her perspective on whether the allocation of the arts and rec funds for the pool was or wasn’t legal. She stated that the commission meeting dated Nov. 13, 2012 was the first meeting that $1.1 million was allocated from the arts and recreation fund to renovate and rehabilitate the pool on the New River campus.
Therefore, she said, Judge Vickers cannot ask a return of the million dollars, only the return of the $300,000, which was allocated at the Dec. 4, 2012 meeting, ruled not a legal meeting by Judge Vickers.
Crookshanks reasoned, “If the lawsuit says we can’t build the pool, then [the college] can tear it down and still use the building as a fine arts center.”
Ultimately, the State Code narrowly defines projects and purposes for which bed tax revenues can be spent. Expenditures for recreational facilities must be made for facilities “owned by a county or municipality.”
Judge Vickers, in rejecting the commission’s position, wrote in his brief, “The statute is plain and unambiguous, and the words ‘owned by a county or municipality’ will be given their ordinary meanings …It is undisputed that Greenbrier County does not own the Fine Arts & Aquatic Center.”
Commission member Woody Hanna weighed in, saying, “The college is an important part of the community and we [the Commission] support it.” But, he added, “we have to replace the funds to the arts and rec account and our only recourse is to file suit – though we don’t want to.” He said the Commission’s only hope is to “give a little time” to allow the college to return the funds.