Commissioners should return money to taxpayers
To the editor:
In 2016, the Hancock County Animal Shelter Excess Levy account balance had grown to over $365,000. Many county taxpayers believe the commissioners’ desire to gain access to this money motivated them to not renew the shelter contract with the nonprofit that operated it for the past two decades. The contract required an annual renewal by both parties.
In May of 2016, the nonprofit successfully passed a $100,000 annual Excess Levy to help financially support operation of the shelter. Less than a month later, June 2016, the commissioners provided a new contract to the nonprofit with major changes emphasizing killing shelter animals as the “preferred” method for controlling expenses. Naturally, the nonprofit would not agree to the changes and the commissioners took over operation of the shelter on July 1, 2016.
The first day the commissioners had control of the shelter, they filed a request with the W.Va. Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion regarding whom had ownership of the previously identified Excess Levy money.
The commissioners had already drafted the request, approved it internally, and received approval from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office prior to expiration of the contract on June 30, 2016. Again, the legal opinion request was submitted July 1, 2016. On March 31, 2017, the Attorney General issued a written opinion indicating that neither the nonprofit nor the commission should have access to the previously collected levy money. The Attorney General’s office researched the issue for nine months and sited previously settled legal cases supporting their opinion. The Attorney General’s recommendation was to return the money to the taxpayers of Hancock County. Obviously, this was not the answer the commissioners expected.
In December 2018 and again in March 2019, I asked the commissioners if they had a plan to return the money to the taxpayers. Their response was the standard line “We are awaiting direction from the WV Attorney General’s Office.” They also stated they would follow-up with the Attorney General’s office again for direction.
In June, I contacted the Attorney General’s office asking for updated information regarding their discussions with the Hancock County Commission or its representative. On June 13, an Assistant Attorney General called me and said he had asked office personnel if anyone had been in communication with a Hancock County commissioner or representative regarding the previously issued legal opinion. He stated nobody has talked with anyone from Hancock County regarding this issue for over a year. Either the commission or the Attorney General’s Office is not being truthful regarding communications regarding how to return the money to the taxpayers.
The Hancock County Commissioners should “do the right thing” and return the levy money to the taxpayers of Hancock County.