Scorching heat no cause to tap Rainy Day Fund

If you are one of the thousands of West Virginia that suffered a power outage during a late evening storm June 29, hopefully your electric service has been restored by now. But none of us will likely forget the experience of dealing with no electricity in our homes or businesses for one or more days in sweltering heat that involved 53 of this state’s 55 counties.

Four days after the storm occurred, Appalachian Power Company was still working to restore electric service to nearly 175,000 of its 688,000 customers in West Virginia. At the same time, Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison said their combined number of customers still without power restored was nearly 107,400. The following day, Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer sent 600 members of the National Guard door to door to check on people, install generators and deliver food and water.

And it wasn’t just falling trees that brought down power lines. Monongahela Power reported that three towers on a 500-kilovolt transmission line that parallels U.S. Route 50 near Ellenboro were leveled by the high winds. Company officials said it would “take days” to repair that line.

Large numbers of people waiting to fill up vehicles and portable generators with gasoline at some service stations were anxious the first couple of days, partly because many gas stations were without power as well. And the demand for bags of ice exceeded many retail locations’ ability to fill those needs.

Emergency workers were still handing out meals and bottled water to thousands of people last Wednesday. Some folks were so unhappy at that point that a state homeland security official warned officials dealing with the emergency situation to be on the lookout for “desperate people” who might try to steal food, water or other supplies.

In Fayette County there were 14,400 customers — roughly 60 percent of the people in that county — that still didn’t have electricity five days after the storm. They were also having trouble finding drinking water, so at one point the county sheriff, his deputies and several members of the National Guard were going door to door to hand out some 7,000 military-style, ready-to-eat meals.

Volunteers helped make sure this state’s famed Greenbrier Resort was ready for its national golf tournament that began last Thursday in White Sulfur Springs with golfing icon Tiger Woods among the participants. Jim Justice, the owner of the resort, said hundreds showed up to make sure the golf course and the surrounding grounds were ready for this national television event.

There were many examples of people who were willing to extend a helping hand to those state residents still scrambling for food and other assistance. A food drive conducted in front of the Governor’s Mansion on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston last Tuesday collected more than $60,000 in donations along with much-needed contributions of food.

In the storm’s aftermath, while forest fires continue to plague several western states and flooding ravages parts of Florida, we are all reminded once again that we can only talk about the weather but are powerless to do anything to avoid these extreme events.

Meanwhile, once again West Virginia has managed to end its fiscal year with revenue reserves that rank this state among the top tier of states in the nation. The state had a general tax revenue reserve of $87.6 million on June 30 and state officials were quick to point out this will be enough to fully cover the its fiscal needs.

About $24 million of the surplus is going to fully fund the state’s main emergency reserve, known as Rainy Day Fund A, which is maintained to provide a cushion when unforeseen financial emergencies occur. There is also a second rainy day fund but neither of these sources is likely to be needed to cope with the recent violent storms that left people in 53 of the state’s 55 counties without electricity for days.

The state recently created a separate $10 million disaster relief fund for these kind of emergencies. And state fiscal officers annually withdraw funding at the beginning of the fiscal year each July 1 to make sure there is enough cash to cover expenses during the first month. It is typically returned to the reserve account sometime during the second quarter of the state’s fiscal year.

Since both personal income tax yields and consumer sales tax collections both beat the anticipated yields this past year, each climbing by about 6 percent from the previous year. This clearly reflects a better economic climate in FY2012 than the previous year.

Finally, because of the growing problems of neglect and drug abuse by their parents, nearly 4,000 children are now living in foster care homes. That figure has increased by 127 in the past year, the commissioner of the Bureau of Children and Families reported to a legislative study group last month. This state agency also has difficulty maintaining adequate staffing levels because of the stress associated with the work.

One legislator compared the work to post-traumatic stress syndrome that commonly occurs among people serving on foreign battlefields. An example cited at the legislative interim committee hearing was the case where a staff worker walked into a home and found an infant lying in a crib that was infested with maggots. No wonder the employment situation is such a problem that one of every four caseworkers has only been on the job for a year or less.

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