By Mayor Dave Johnson
WESTOVER - Like Mayor Barrett and our friends in Winfield, Westover, the second largest city in Monongalia County, continues its work toward annexation of our unwilling and uncooperative community center and retail business district, the Morgantown Mall. The Mall's owner, Glimcher Realty Trust, continues to aggressively deny the obvious - that it is part of our community, and that it has a fair duty to help, like every other Westover business, to meet the challenges that we face together.In both Monongalia and Putman counties, businesses proposed to be annexed into their host municipality have the same short-sighted response: We refuse because there's nothing for me or my business to gain by annexation.In The Happy City, author Charles Montgomery shows that a city serves two important purposes: A city is both an engine of wealth and a system shaped to improve human well-being.The businesses located in our urban areas but outside municipal boundaries exploit the engine of wealth made possible by the city - including population density, business synergy, planning, marketing, supporting infrastructure and public safety - while ignoring the corresponding and fair responsibility to help improve the well-being of their neighbors, employees and customers.A city should be fair in the way it apportions benefits and costs, lead us to health rather than sickness, and must promote openness and mutual support that we will need to tackle the great challenges ahead.
After a long, cabin-fever winter, perhaps we are more ready to acknowledge a stark truth: Many of our cities and towns are unable to provide supportive and healthy communities and infrastructure that would allow all of our citizens a chance for a happier and healthier life.This shortcoming is not for want of effort or desire to do better. The people of Westover, like citizens in municipalities all over our state, have far more needs than local governments are able to meet with our limited powers to raise revenue. These limits are becoming even more detrimental to our mission to serve our citizens. Federal and state aid that was previously available to support our people and infrastructure is disappearing and not likely to return in the foreseeable future.The challenges are for our communities to meet, or fail to meet, together. Can we provide affordable, healthy and socially positive alternatives to an isolated and unhealthy life so easy to suffer with today's technology? Can our community facilities help attract good employers with new jobs? Can we promote and provide healthy living alternatives for all of our citizens, particularly our hard-working families with little extra income to spend on these important purposes?We can, but it will take hard work, vision, dedication and money. Three out of four won't get it - without additional funding from local sources, local conditions will not improve.Unfortunately, the Morgantown Mall and the businesses adjacent to Winfield are not the only businesses avoiding this fair duty. Developments and manufacturing facilities throughout our state, both old and new, locate in our urban areas just outside of municipal boundaries and refuse to participate fully in the cost of local government.Let's characterize these choices as misguided instead of cynical and self-serving, and ask again that these community leaders and business owners accept the indispensable and fair role that they must play in our work to make a better life for all of our citizens.Dave Johnson is mayor of Westover.