What started out as a simple committee meeting to examine the progression of a bill turned into an hour of confusion in the House Government Organization Committee Wednesday.
The Committee met to discuss House Bill 2182, which relates to an examination of the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority’s accounts by state officials. Delegate John Shott sponsored the bill after getting word there was some confusion going on at the airport located in Mineral County.
What the Delegates came to realize is they were confused, too.
“I guess what’s confusing with this is, maybe this is a question for counsel, but how can the state of Maryland have authority for property that’s situated in the state of West Virginia,” asked Delegate Justin Marcum.
“Well they own the actual property, so I mean Alleghany County owns the property,” said Rick Lechliter, the Mineral County Commissioner with the Airport Authority Board, “but that’s where, beyond that, that’s where the compact has been confusing all this time, because it splits up who operates it, and so neither state really has a say.”
Lechliter came to explain the confusion going on at the airport and ask for help from legislators.
Delegate Gary Howell, the chairman of the House Government Organization Committee, clarified the situation.
“The airport itself lies completely within Mineral County, West Virginia,” Howell said, “It’s in an unincorporated area of Wiley Ford, West Virginia. But the airport was originally built by the city of Cumberland, Maryland in West Virginia then transferred to Allegheny County, Maryland, and sometime, I believe it was in the 1970s, West Virginia got involved with funding the airport. West Virginia now through tax breaks and funding actually funds the majority of the operations of the airport, and there’s been an argument over whose laws take precedent, the airport being in West Virginia and West Virginia funding the majority of it, you would think it was our state, but some of the others have some disagreement, and that’s what led to this. And Delegate Shott thought it was a good idea to go ahead and change it in the code to make sure it could be audited to follow, make sure they’re following West Virginia law.”
Delegate Larry Faircloth was one of many in the meeting baffled to find out the accounting firm used by the airport was auditing itself.
“One company that performed the audit that is also doing the accounting,” Faircloth said, “in your opinion, I mean, if we dig deep enough…”
“I know that’s not the right thing by West Virginia regulations,” said Lechliter.
“No, it shouldn’t be the right thing by any regulation,” responded Faircloth, “You know with all due respect this smells.”
By the end of the meeting, Delegate Jim Morgan brought into perspective that most of what was discussed was not what anyone was expecting and not relevant to what the original focus was of the bill.
“It would seem to me that this committee should be deciding on what’s on line six on page two that they should submit an agency review, etcetera, etcetera, and that the gentlemen who is responding is being asked about the operation in the airport and several other things that really aren’t what we’re asking for in this piece of legislation, and that most of those questions really have really not been germane to what we’re doing,” noted Morgan.
Delegate Howell explains why the committee was so confused.
“We originally had attorneys from the auditor’s office come up and tell us that they didn’t cut the checks that the treasurer’s office did, so we had to make an amendment to the bill,” said Howell, “Apparently this was someone who was new to the auditor’s office and had it backwards, and there was different attorneys from the auditor’s office that were in there, and once we done that, they come up and told my staff, they said, that’s not right that’s backwards. So we kind of had to back out and correct the mistake. We’d originally gotten some bad information from the attorneys in the auditor’s office.”
At the end of the meeting, the bill was amended to change the word auditor to treasurer.
Delegate Howell says what happened in the meeting was a strange instance for everyone.
“We want to make sure we’re doing this the right thing, we want to make sure that the tax payer’s money is being protected and spent wisely and that’s essentially what this did. Let’s make sure this is going to be done wisely,” Howell said.
House Bill 2182 will now be considered by the House Finance Committee.