The Times West Virginian

February 16, 2014

Coal severance, lottery funds, grants used to fund Palatine project

By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — As planning for the development of the riverfront at Palatine Park continues, a lot has been said about what is going to be developed and how the park will look.

One crucial aspect is funding, and Marion County Commission President Butch Tennant said the money that is being used to pay for the development is not taxpayers’ money.

He said the budget for the project, which has a deadline of May 15 for a completion date, was set at $1 million.

“We would like to keep it within the budget, but it looks like we might go over,” Tennant said. “But all three commissioners feel very strong about developing Palatine Park, and we’ve made it a big project for us.”

As for the sources that are funding the development of the park, the biggest percentage of the project is being paid by coal severance tax money. Tennant said Marion County is lucky to have resources in the county that qualify for coal severance.

“We get a check every quarter for the coal severance tax,” he said.

Tennant said tax money from coal severance usually goes in the general fund for the county.

Another source of funding comes from the county’s “sin” tax, which Tennant said is money from the lottery that can be used for several things.

“There are really no restrictions with that money,” he added.

Grants are also being used to fund the development. Tennant said the county will get grant money from the state of West Virginia, and because the park is used often for events and festivals, money from the county’s hotel/ motel tax fund can be used as well.

“(The park) is considered to be a tourism attraction because of the festivals and things that are held there that attract people from outside the county,” he said.

Charlie Reese, director of the Marion County Development Authority, said half the hotel/motel tax money the county gets goes to the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Marion County.

“With that money there are a few strings attached, but we’re doing a lot of things there that are related to tourism that bring people into Marion County,” Reese said.

One thing Marion County doesn’t have to worry about is debt. Tennant said the county does a good job of keeping its budget from running a deficit.

“We’re in the black when it comes to the county’s money,” he said.

During a county commission meeting on Jan. 29, commissioners approved the final plans for the park that were presented by Thrasher Group, which won the engineering-architect contract in November 2013.

Reese told commissioners when they “look at the design, it’s going to be better than (they) ever thought.” The designs include a splash park, restrooms, a banked area in front of the amphitheater, a natural playground, and handicap and emergency vehicle accessibility.

Tennant said some of the biggest purchases for the park will be the restrooms, splash park and development in front of the amphitheater.

“We’re going to revamp the whole area in front of the stage,” he said. “That will be a big cost.”

Another big cost is grass. Reese said any place where people are going to walk or be, the county decided to put sod grass there.

“We don’t expect to put grass seed down and have it ready by May,” he said. “We made an extra investment in putting sod down.”

Tennant said the decision to use sod grass was because of several incidents at the park where, because of the weather, it became muddy in the area. He said using sod might be costly, but it’ll be worth it.

“We want it done, and we want it done right,” Tennant said.

With more than 40 inches of snow dropping so far this winter, being able to physically develop the riverfront has been a struggle.

Reese said the first major transformation of the park will be the restrooms. He said the concrete buildings are being built off site and will be brought to the park and put in place once it’s finished. But with the weather the way it’s been, Reese said he’s concerned with bringing the restrooms in by truck or crane on such saturated ground.

“It will be transported by a truck,” he said. “Then you have to pick it up with a huge crane and place it on the pad and hook everything up. When you have to go from the amphitheater to the back of the park with no road, you’re going to tear up the land.”

Reese said the next step to the project is for Thrasher to get permits from the City of Fairmont, which could happen sooner than later. Once the permits are taken care of and the weather breaks, he said construction will begin.

“We want to start moving some dirt soon,” Reese said.

Email Emily Gallagher at egallagher@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.