Lawmakers advance plans to assist southern coalfield region, increase community development grant matches

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill which calls for the creation of the “Southern Coalfield Resiliency and Revitalization Program” was approved by the Senate Committee on Economic Development on Friday. 

Introduced by Del. Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, and co-sponsored by Delegates Rohrbach, Mazzocchi, Bridges, Dean, Toney, Holstein, and Green, HB 5223 seeks to establish revitalization councils to “organize and prioritize state resources and technical assistance”  for select counties in the southern coalfield region of the state. Those counties include Boone, Mingo, McDowell, Logan, and Wyoming. 

The bill passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 20 by a vote of 90 to five. Delegates Elias Coop-Gonzalez, R-Randolph; Henry Dillon, R-Wayne; Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh; Larry Kump, R-Berkeley; and Darren Thorne, R-Hampshire, voted against passage.

As explained by Committee Counsel Hank Hager, “The purpose of the program is to create collaboration among local government, higher education, and private and nonprofit sectors to facilitate community revitalization in the southern coalfields area.”

“The program would exist for an initial period of five years,” Hager continued. “The bill [also] lays out seven goals of the council to support economic development in the southern coalfield area.”

“The bill would require the council to report annually to the governor, and the Joint Committee on Government and Finance regarding its progress,” Hager added. 

Hager noted that the bill has a second committee reference, that being to the Senate Committee on Finance, prompting Stover to inquire as to why. However, Hager was unaware of the reason for the second reference.

HB 5223 was approved by the committee without further questions or discussion. As required by the second reference, the bill will now be referred to the Senate Committee on Finance for further consideration. 

Also on the committee’s Friday agenda was 5170.

Sponsored by Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, and co-sponsored by Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, HB 5170 seeks to increase the state’s matching contribution for economic development grants. The bill passed the House of Delegates on Feb. 16 by a vote of 85 to 10.

As once more explained by Hager, “This bill would increase the limit on the annual matching grants available for eligible corporations or authorities that participate in the Department of Economic Development’s certified development community program.”

According to Hager, current law caps the state’s allowable matching contribution at $30,000.

“This bill increases that cap to $50,000,” Hager said.

As stated in the bill, the certified development community program provides “funding assistance to the participating economic development corporations or authorities through a matching grant program.” 

At the conclusion of Hager’s explanation, Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, asked, “So if ‘group whomever’ up in ‘county wherever’ comes up with $48,000, the state will match $48,000 – that’s knocking on the edge of the limit now – instead of $30,000?”

“That’s correct,” replied Hager.

As with the previous bill, HB 5170 was approved by the committee, and will now be reported to the Senate Committee on Finance for further discussion. 

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of both bills as additional information is made available. 

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