The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 12, 2012

Satellite magistrate office to close

LEWISBURG — An unexpected decision by the state Supreme Court’s administrator to close a satellite magistrate office in the western end of Greenbrier County is causing grief for law enforcement and financial hardship for the volunteer fire department that provides the office space.

County Commission President Betty Crookshanks read a letter from court administrative director Steven D. Canterbury announcing the impending closure of the Rupert office during Tuesday evening’s commission session.

In the letter, dated Dec. 19, Canterbury takes full responsibility for the decision to close Greenbrier County’s satellite magistrate office in Rupert.

He cited both financial considerations and an assertion that I-64 “has considerably cut the time and enhanced the safety of the drive from Rupert to Lewisburg” as figuring into his decision to close the office, effective Jan. 31.

“It is never easy to close a public facility, and I am sure that many in the far western part of Greenbrier County will not be pleased,” Canterbury wrote.

Among those displeased by the decision, Rupert Fire Chief Dalton Elmore decried both the financial hit on his department — which is losing $675 a month in rent paid by the court and the county — and the inconvenience to the residents of the western end.

“It shows a lack of consideration by a public agency,” Elmore fumed during a telephone interview with The Register-Herald Wednesday morning. “It’s disgusting.”

Compounding the financial hardship on the 13-member fire company is the failure of all involved to notify the VFD the space is being vacated.

“We found out yesterday (Tuesday) about 10 in the morning,” Elmore said. “There was no reason given, no consideration. There’s not been a word to the general public, but the county’s known about it since last month.”

Crookshanks said during Tuesday’s meeting she had assumed the high court was contacting all interested parties and perhaps even issuing a press release on the planned closure.

The VFD hopes to be able to find a new tenant for the space — approximately 1,500 square feet, including two restrooms — but Elmore said at least one prospective tenant was lost because the department was not notified by the first of the year that the county would break its lease.

Elmore was also incensed by what he believes is a lack of consideration for the residents of the county’s western end, many of whom live more than a 30-minute drive over crooked roads from the nearest entrance to I-64.

“I go to the doctor in Lewisburg, and I have to allow the better part of an hour to get to my appointment,” Elmore said, pointing out Rupert is only 6 miles from I-64’s Sam Black interchange.

Elmore’s wife, Mary, who is the VFD’s secretary, said, “It’s going to be an inconvenience for people who live here to drive all the way into Lewisburg to the magistrate office.”

Rainelle Police Chief J.P. Stevens said having the satellite office only 10 miles from his town has allowed his two-man department to spend more time investigating crimes instead of being on the road.

“It’s 40 minutes for every trip we make to Lewisburg, and the same amount of time coming back,” Stevens noted. “It’s going to be a big disappointment for us to have that office close.”

Having found out at least a week ago through informal channels that the office would close, however, Stevens and Rainelle Mayor Andrea Pendleton made arrangements to acquire some of the furnishings from the Rupert office for the Rainelle Police Department.

“I thought it was common knowledge the office was closing,” Pendleton said Wednesday, adding that she is saddened to see it happen.

“It’s an ordeal to go all the way to Lewisburg,” she said. “We only have two police officers, and if they have to run back and forth to Lewisburg all the time, it leaves the city without law enforcement coverage. My officers stay busy all the time as it is.”

Despite anecdotal evidence showing the satellite office was well used, there’s apparently no documentation to either support or disprove the assertions. A spokesperson at the Greenbrier County Magistrate office in Lewisburg stated no separate record of the satellite office’s activity has ever been kept, and no estimates can be provided.

According to the Supreme Court of Appeals’ Information Office, the Rupert site is one of only three satellite magistrate offices being closed in the entire state. The others are the Fayette County satellite in Danese and the Pocahontas County satellite office in Durbin.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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