A small conference center and campground in Jackson County has stirred up plenty of controversy at the statehouse over the past few years.
Members of the West Virginia Board of Education want to get rid of their authority of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, but state officials aren’t willing to pay the cost to let it go.
This year, lawmakers believe they’ve found a compromise that let’s the board off the hook while keeping Cedar Lakes open for the thousands of kids who attend camps there each year.
House Bill 4351 would transfer the Cedar Lakes Camp and Conference Center from the control of the state Board of Education to the Department of Agriculture. In the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday, the bill was passed out with no debate, but in previous years, things haven’t gone so smoothly.
Cedar Lakes is a 228-acre campground and conference center that’s been around since 1949. It’s used for a variety of things from hiking and fishing to a meeting place for groups like the 4-H.
Since the site was established, it has been supported by the state Board of Education, however, after a 2010 audit, the board found the conference center was costing the state Department of Education more money than it was bringing in and wanted to get rid of it.
Delegate Steve Westfall of Jackson County is the sponsor of House Bill 4351. Cedar Lakes is in his district and two years ago, he attempted to convince the board to keep the conference center open.
“Senator Carmichael and myself went to the State Board of Education and proposed a five year plan to keep it open and to eventually move it from the control of the Education Department,” Westfall said.
The 2015 bill attempted to make Cedar Lakes a non-profit, but it was vetoed. In the governor’s veto message, he said he supported transferring the Cedar Lakes Camp into its own foundation, however, the transfer would create an unexpected increase in separation costs resulting in substantial burden for the taxpayer.
Cedar Lakes employees are all considered state employees and when state workers leave public employment, West Virginia must pay them a separation package. That package includes a dollar amount for their built up vacation time, among other things.
“There’s only about 22, 23 employees at Cedar Lakes, but some of them have been there for 35 years or more, so my intent all along was to protect employees but to protect Cedar Lakes also.”
This year’s bill finds a compromise between the two. It would transfer Cedar Lakes Camp over to the Department of Agriculture, keeping it within the state’s control. Westfall says he thinks the governor will approve it.
“The governor has looked at it, and I think the governor’s okay with it. He doesn’t want to close it either. He’s been to facility and stuff, so it’s great. I think it’s, sometimes you wonder why things happen with the veto of the bill last year, but I think now it’s actually gonna be better for Cedar Lakes.”
House Bill 4351 now moves to the House Education Committee for further consideration.