The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 31, 2013

Greenbrier County Commission demands money back from college — again

LEWISBURG — The Greenbrier County Commission has renewed its demand that New River Community and Technical College refund $1.3 million previously allocated for a swimming pool project.

A legal challenge to the expenditure of county hotel/motel tax revenue resulted in a June circuit court ruling that the allocation was illegal, but the judge did not prohibit the county from funding the pool via other sources, if available.

The pool slated for rehab is located in a building now being renovated on New River’s Greenbrier Valley campus in Lewisburg for use as offices, a student center and a fine arts program. Although the college has no interest in operating an aquatic center, officials there agreed to include the pool reconstruction in the renovation process, based upon a pledge by the county to pay for that portion of the overall project and to operate the pool, once completed.

The county commission had already requested its money back twice — once prior to the judge’s ruling and once after — before renewing the demand during Tuesday evening’s regular meeting.

After a private 20-minute session with Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via near the end of the meeting, the commissioners voted 2-1 to instruct the prosecutor to demand the return of the money “in the strongest possible terms.”

Commission President Karen Lobban voted against asking the college to refund the money, which was given to the school in December.

Commissioner Woody Hanna explained that Via had

received a letter from senior assistant Attorney General Charles Houdyschell Jr., who represents the college’s board of governors, suggesting “mediation” on the earlier refund requests.

Hanna said the letter would not be made public in its entirety because the correspondence was between attorneys.

He noted that the commission’s allocation and payment of the $1.3 million for the pool project was done “in good faith,” but when the judge ruled that hotel/motel tax money could not legally be used to improve property not owned by the county, the commission had no choice but to ask the college to give the money back.

“That money (in the bed tax fund) has to be replaced,” Hanna said. “We don’t have anyplace else to get $1.3 million. I don’t see that there’s anything to mediate.”

Noting that even the meeting in which the decision to allocate the money was ruled by the judge to be illegal, Hanna said, “That money has to come back.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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