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►  West Virginia monthly tax receipts up again from last year

West Virginia tax officials say collections of nearly $949 million so far, this fiscal year are 3.7 percent or almost $34 million higher than the same period last year.

Treasury Secretary Dave Hardy says revenues from September alone were up 3.5 percent mainly due to increases in corporate net income tax as well as severance tax receipts from coal mining and natural gas drilling.

He says the first-quarter results show “things are materially better than they were last year.”

The Department of Revenue reports severance taxes from production of coal, natural gas and oil are up 19 percent for the month and 47 percent for the quarter from a year earlier.

Hardy says that trend is expected to continue upward due to improving natural gas and higher coal sales.


►  Ex-nursing home worker pleads guilty in funds theft case

A former nursing home worker in West Virginia has pleaded guilty in an embezzlement case.

Thirty-five-year-old Veneford Blankenship of Princeton entered the plea Tuesday to mail fraud in federal court in Charleston.

Prosecutors say Blankenship worked as the business office supervisor at a Princeton nursing home admitted diverting residents’ payment checks into a bank account. She then wrote checks to herself, forging the signatures of two other individuals.

Blankenship agreed to pay nearly $83,000 in restitution as part of her plea agreement. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for January 23.


►  Economic Development officials weigh in on WV broadband

In a recent survey among West Virginia’s economic development agencies and chambers of commerce, a conflicting narrative has emerged. It’s between a perceived need for higher speeds with more access to broadband and an uncertainty as to what those current speeds and reach of existing providers already are.

The survey found that:

——87.8 percent of respondents stated that the percentage of businesses in their county/counties that require internet for daily operations falls between 51 and 100 percent.

——91.7 percent of respondents stated they believed the percentage of the labor force that works from home full-time in their county/counties falls at 10 percent or below.

——22.4 percent of respondents stated they believe the percentage of the West Virginia labor force that works from and/or operates a business from home falls 5 percent or below.

——When surveying West Virginia residents in February, West Virginia for Broadband found that 14.7 percent of respondents stated they or someone in their house works from or operates a business from home.

——44.9 percent of respondents reported that they believe 91-100 percent of businesses in their county/counties would see improvement in operations through doubled broadband speeds.


►  Morrisey, Jenkins campaigns take shots at each other over fundraising

Senator Joe Manchin continues to hold a strong fundraising lead over his two most prominent Republican rivals in what is anticipated to be one of the most competitive, expensive U.S. Senate races in the nation.

Manchin’s campaign raised $900,000 during the most recent fundraising period and has about $4.1 million cash on hand.

Running on the Republican side, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaign raised about $700,000 and has about $548,000 cash on hand.

Congressman Evan Jenkins, another Republican, reported $220,000 raised in the period with $1,255,454 cash on hand.

Manchin’s campaign put out a release noting that the senator had raised more than the combined fundraising totals of Morrisey and Jenkins during the period.

“West Virginians are sick of the constant gridlock in Washington that causes nothing to get done. Senator Manchin’s strong support is at this early stage is proof that voters approve of his independent approach to representing the people of West Virginia,” stated Pat Devney, Manchin’s campaign manager.

West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country. Cook Political Report has the race as a tossup. Sabato’s Crystal Ball has it as “leans Democrat.”

A MetroNews West Virginia Poll released at the beginning of September showed Manchin with 50 percent of the vote versus 40 percent for Congressman Evan Jenkins in a theoretical general election matchup. Eleven percent of respondents in that race were undecided.

Results were similar for a theoretical general election battle between Manchin and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The results show Manchin with 52 percent and Morrisey with 38 percent. Again, 11 percent said they were unsure.

Asked to assess the latest fundraising totals, West Virginia Wesleyan political science professor Robert Rupp wasn’t surprised Manchin is aggressively raising money and taking the race seriously.

“We have to realize this is an experienced politician who has run for statewide office how many times. Now he has the status of a U.S. Senator and he’s been given long notice to prepare,” Rupp said in a telephone interview.

“It’s not surprising that a U.S. Senator who is facing a serious challenge is doing very well as far as raising money and having money on hand.”

Rupp said attention and spending are likely to pick up as the race continues.

“You tell me the last time a Senate race in West Virginia got national attention,” Rupp said.

“This isn’t just about the state and this isn’t just about control of the Senate. This is really about Republican domination of the South. And Manchin is basically the last conservative Democrat left from the South in the Senate.

Rupp added, “His defeat or his victory would send messages in terms of the future of the political landscape.  If he wins, he’ll be credited with a way for Democrats to make s comeback in this state. If he loses it’ll be viewed as a nail in the coffin.”

The race to take on Manchin has remained heated, as the Jenkins and Morrisey campaigns took shots at each other over their respective fundraising.

“Frankly, we expected a 20-year Washington lobbyist like Morrisey to top $1 million this quarter, but even that wouldn’t be enough to hide his record as a 20-year D.C. lobbyist for liberal special interests,” stated Andy Sere, who is a spokesman for the Jenkins campaign.

Morrisey’s campaign knocked Jenkins for not raising as much during the fundraising period.

“Liberal Evan Jenkins and his campaign are in a tailspin — spending resources faster than they can raise it,” stated Nachama Soloveichik for Morrisey.

“That shows terrible organization and a severe lack of discipline for a campaign hoping to take on an incumbent like Senator Joe Manchin. No other so-called tier-one candidate in the country performed as poorly in their fundraising last quarter.”

Rupp suggested the sources of each campaign’s fundraising also would be an issue.

“Who is getting the outside money. And I think with Morrisey there’s going to be a question of where the money is coming from,” Rupp said.

Sure enough, that’s an issue the Jenkins campaign raised.

“We are proud that 70 percent of our donors are West Virginia voters, while Morrisey is financing his campaign with dirty cash from the D.C. Swamp and globalist corporations that know he’s for sale,” Sere stated for Jenkins.

Morrisey’s campaign stated that Jenkins is more representative of the swamp.

“Evan Jenkins is the ideal model creature of the DC swamp with no grassroots support and a record more liberal than Senator Joe Manchin,” Soloveichik stated.


►  Officials investigating suspicious fire in Lewis County

Weston Fire Department is investigating a structure fire from Tuesday night that is believed to be suspicious in nature.

Crews were called to a vacant home on North River Avenue in Weston about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Weston Fire Chief Kenny James said the structure had no power, but he is uncertain if other utilities were still connected to the home.

James said crews returned to the scene for two rekindles throughout the night, and the structure is deemed as a total loss.

At this time, the fire department is handling the investigation, before calling in the State Fire Marshal.

“We’ll see what we can determine first, and then we’ll go from there,” James said.


►  Richwood residents ask state board to take over Nicholas schools

When the state Supreme Court ruled against a county government Tuesday in a controversial school consolidation case, the chief justice and the state superintendent each offered expressions of hope the community could come together for a better solution for everyone.

On Wednesday, Richwood residents asked the state Board of Education to take over Nicholas County schools.

Four residents who spoke to the board during the public comment period of a regular state board meeting said they have no other hope outside a school system takeover.

“I implore you — please take control of the Nicholas County school system. Our children cannot afford another day without leadership,” said Richwood resident Jeromy Rose.

Rose also said residents had started a petition in an attempt to have the current Nicholas County school board members removed from office.

“We are not simply asking but following the legal process to have the board members removed from office,” Rose told state board members.

State board President Tom Campbell, after a lengthy executive session, concluded today’s meeting by saying the board had made no decision at all and needs more time to reflect.

“The decision is still fresh. 24 hours, maybe a little bit more,” Campbell told the crowd at the meeting. “We do want to tell people we’ve heard the voices of Nicholas County. “We’ve asked our legal team to digest the decision.”

In a discussion after the meeting with reporters, Campbell said his personal opinion is he doubts there will be a state takeover of the school system. He said his preference is to collaborate with the county board.

A delegation of citizens asking the state board to take over its county school system seemed like a twist. More often, citizens speak up to maintain local control over their schools.

Members of the state board listened on Wednesday but offered no indication one way or another if they would really consider a Nicholas takeover.

Last year, Boone County schools narrowly avoided a takeover by cutting employee pay and benefits in order to balance its budget.

Also last year, the state board returned local control to the Gilmer County school system, which was taken over in 2011. This year, the state returned control to Fayette County, which was taken over in 2010. That marked the first time since 1998 that no county systems were under state control.

One of the speakers from the Richwood area, Stacy Raffo, said she believes a takeover is actually the only remaining avenue to heal the county. Raffo said she also intends to run for the county board in the next election.

“For the Richwood residents and for the people of the Richwood school district, we just have faced 15 months of frustration. It’s not something that we take lightly. However, I think most of us agree that we can’t move forward with the current administration and leadership that we have,” Raffo said. “We don’t have a whole lot of options, so we’d appreciate the state board intervening.”

In an interview during a break in the meeting, Raffo said that despite the wishes of cooperation from prominent state leaders that sentiment seems unlikely to take root. Her daughter Quinn, a freshman at Richwood High School, also addressed the state board.

“History is the greatest indicator of the future,” Raffo said, laying out complaints over decisions by Nicholas Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick. “Given that, I think it’s hard for us to believe that we can move forward with open communication and dialogue. There’s nothing we want more than to find a compromise and begin working together in our county. However, as many of us said today we just feel like we may be too far gone for that without outside help.”

The state Supreme Court unanimously on Tuesday ruled in favor of the state school board. The board had previously blocked a Nicholas County consolidation plan and then was challenged all the way through West Virginia’s court system.

The issue took shape after devastating floods struck Nicholas County two summers ago, destroying Richwood High and Middle and Summersville Middle schools.

After a series of public hearings, the Nicholas County board decided on its consolidation plan, opting to use an alternative form of Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to pool all flood-recovery money into one pool to rebuild schools.

The local school board voted to combine five schools — Richwood Middle and Summersville Middle Schools and Nicholas County and Richwood High Schools, along with the Career and Technical Education Facility — at one campus in the Summersville area.

The state board twice rejected that plan — expressing concern that local board members didn’t adequately listen to concerns from Richwood residents and that alternatives might exist.

In late August, Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ruled in favor of the county board and ordered the state board to let consolidation go forward. He concluded that the state board had overstepped its own policies and regulations and was overly swayed by community sentiment.

In reversing Bloom, Supreme Court justices wrote that they recognized the swirling and difficult emotions surrounding consolidation.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry on Tuesday issued a concurring opinion, saying the ruling should not be construed as a victory for the Richwood residents who fought the Comprehensive Educational Facility Plan or as a defeat for the Nicholas County school board.

“What the decision of the WVBOE in rejecting the CEFP amendment suggests, when fairly construed, is simply that there is more work to be done to determine the best solutions for these schools,” Loughry wrote.

Loughry’s concurring opinion made conspicuous note of the high achievement of Nicholas County’s current school system.

“Because all of the schools involved—each individually and as part of the Nicholas County school system—are so successful, the respective boards must proceed with all diligence to ensure that such exemplary success is fostered, rather than jeopardized,” Loughry wrote.

The chief justice suggested that as the decisions continue to be made for what is best for Nicholas County students, the optimal outcomes would result through working together.

“As the parties move forward, I trust that they will work cooperatively, diligently, and with alacrity to ensure that the students of Nicholas County receive the educational facilities, programs, and opportunities they deserve and to which they are constitutionally entitled,” Loughry wrote.

The chief justice continued, “I am confident that the parties’ ardently expressed concern for the children’s well-being will lead Nicholas County students to precisely that end.”

State schools Superintendent Steve Paine released a statement Tuesday acknowledging that more work remains to be done and emphasizing cooperation.

“We remain focused on finding a resolution that meets the best interest of all students in Nicholas County,” Paine stated.

“We look forward to working cooperatively with the citizens of Nicholas County, the Nicholas County Board of Education, Governor Justice, the West Virginia Legislature and FEMA to ensure that all of the students in Nicholas County are educated in quality facilities and have access to the effective and diverse educational opportunities that all West Virginia students deserve.”

Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber, whose current position is in dispute during an investigation over expenses on his state-issued purchasing card, issued a Tuesday statement that also urged cooperation.

“This is very positive news, yes. Enjoy!” Baber stated, “But be thankful to all that helped, be temperate in your celebration and forgiving to the Nicholas County Board of Education. We need to come back together now. This is decision is good for all the students and for the entire State of West Virginia! I’m overjoyed!”

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