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With aggressive response, HIV cluster growth continues to slow in Cabell County

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County’s HIV cluster’s growth has continued to slow, thanks to the aggressive response from the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and its partners from local to the federal level, said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the health department.

As of Jan. 16, Cabell County had 76 confirmed cases of HIV, according to the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.

In October, the BPH changed how they collected data about the HIV cluster as the infection appeared in other parts of the state. When the cluster first appeared in Cabell County in 2018, BPH counted those who were Cabell County residents at the time of HIV diagnosis or who were diagnosed in the county, as well as those who obtained drugs or harm reduction services in the county in the Cabell County case count. Under BPH’s new approach, persons are categorized according to their county of residence at the time of HIV diagnosis.

Of the 81 cases categorized as linked to Cabell County at the time this shift was made, 73 (90%) resided in Cabell County at diagnosis. This approach will help to avoid duplication of cases across jurisdictions and enable counties to determine risk and take appropriate public health action, BPH says.

Kanawha County has 14 confirmed cases, and Ohio County has five.

Kilkenny told the Cabell Board of Health Wednesday during the board’s regular meeting that from October to January, only two new cases were identified in the county. The average is now one case a month, which Kilkenny said clearly demonstrates the slowing of case time which indicates the disease spread is slowing. The county is continuing to operate at an emergency response level, though.

“For our success to be upheld, we must continue our efforts to the best of our ability,” Kilkenny said.

Kilkenny said the reason the HIV cluster did not get worse was thanks to an aggressive response from local, state and federal partners.

“No other county has local support like ours,” Kilkenny said. “No county could do what we did without the support we have.”

The ability to have harm reduction services was the key to the response. Kilkenny said Cabell County could have quickly reached more than 200 cases like the outbreak in Indiana if not for their harm reduction program.

The Board of Health will be monitoring any progression on a bill introduced in the state Senate that would outlaw syringe exchange programs. Senate Bill 286, sponsored by Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, is referred to the Senate Health and Human Resources committee.

After more than 70 years, Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church closes

HUNTINGTON — After more than 70 years, the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church at 469 Norway Ave., in Huntington conducted a closing celebration service Sunday.

Cinda Harkless, the current pastor, said the church was faced with the hard questions about their sustainability and made the decision to permanently close.

“Just as the city of Huntington has lost population, the Presbyterian Church has lost members,” Harkless said. “Not just here, but across the whole denomination.”

The church had as many as 600 to 700 members in the 1960s, but had dwindled down to around 15 members.

“This was an aging congregation,” she said. “There was no lack of faith here, but there is a lack of resources. Primarily human resources were lacking, more than funds, and we had just got to the point where we didn’t have a core of people to do projects, maintenance and things like that.”

The church was organized at Gallaher School in the mid-1940s.

“It was a mission of First Presbyterian Church, as many of the churches around Huntington were,” Harkless said. “It was organized by a missionary to Japan, Dr. Charles Logan, and our stained glass windows reflect his faith. It was organized with a deep sense of social justice, and the congregation focused its ministry on outreach efforts to serve the needs of others.”

Harkless said her message to those in attendance Sunday was to give thanks to God.

“We want to thank God for the life and faith expressed here,” she said.

The church was home to the Beverly Hills Child Care Center for more than 35 years, and most recently had a joint ministry with the Beverly Hills United Methodist Church in the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry. It was also home to Boy and Girl Scout groups and other community organizations.

Robert Warren, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Kentucky, said he was raised at the church.

“I grew up here from 1974 to 1992,” he said. “My father, the Reverend Dr. A. Michael Warren, was the pastor here from 1973 to 1992.”

Warren said the church was a very important place for him and so many others.

“This church raised me and taught me and more importantly forgave me,” he said.

Terri Effingham said she has been coming to the church since she was 6 years old.

“It’s so sad,” she said. “I’ve been here for a long time.”

Effingham says some of her best childhood memories were made going to church camp.

“We went to Bluestone and also to Cedar Lakes,” she recalled. “We always had a retreat about twice a year.”

Effingham said she will miss the people who came to the church the most.

“We had become a really tight group here, and I am going to miss them very much,” she said.

Analysis: Manufacturing tax repeal would hit some counties hard, leave others unaffected

For years, some legislators and business lobbyists have clamored for an end to the personal property tax on manufacturing machinery, equipment and inventory — which they say would encourage more businesses to come to West Virginia.

Lawmakers have never ended the tax for one big reason: They haven’t been able to figure out how to replace the money the tax brings in, which goes to counties to fund school systems, sheriff’s departments and more.

As lawmakers grapple again with the issue, a Gazette-Mail analysis of data from the state Tax Division shows that a handful of West Virginia’s 55 counties would be hit hard by the removal of the inventory tax, while others would barely be affected at all.

Four counties — Brooke, Hancock, Jackson and Pleasants — would have lost more than 20 percent of their property tax revenue for the 2018 tax year if the inventory tax wasn’t there, according to the data. Two of those counties, Jackson and Brooke, would each have lost more than $6 million.

Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said it’s crucial to have a definite way to replace the lost tax revenue, because losing that much money each year could be crippling to those four counties and others like them, and they would need to be “made whole.”

“I think everybody feels like they want to get rid of the tax because it affects business, but the question is how to pay for it,” Adler said. “That’s the question nobody seems able to answer.”

On the other hand, 12 counties with little in the way of manufacturing businesses would have lost less than $50,000 each if the inventory tax had been repealed for 2018.

Natural gas-rich Doddridge County, which collected $33.64 million in property taxes in 2018, would have lost just $560, according to the Tax Division.

In all, West Virginia’s 55 counties collected $1.715 billion in property taxes in the 2018 tax year, with personal property taxes on manufacturing machinery, equipment and inventory accounting for $91.09 million of that total, according to Tax Division data.

More than 40 percent of property tax collections go toward county school boards. If the inventory tax were repealed, those school boards theoretically would be able to recover money through the state school aid formula, which increases the state’s share of school funding to make up for losses in county revenue. But a loss of tax revenue across the state might strain the state’s financial resources.

One size doesn’t fit all

Manufacturing facilities aren’t evenly distributed among counties. Likewise, the impact of repealing the inventory tax would vary widely from county to county.

Brooke County, once home to Weirton Steel, still retains a number of steel, chemical and manufacturing companies. Without the inventory tax, it would have lost $6.15 million of the $26.24 million of property taxes it collected in 2018 — a loss of 23 percent.

Likewise, Jackson County would have been without $6.09 million of $28.17 million of property taxes, a loss of nearly 22 percent.

Two other counties would have lost more than 20 percent of property tax revenues: Hancock County, losing $5.51 million of $24.83 million, and Pleasants County, losing $2.31 million of $11.06 million in total property tax revenue.

In 2018, a total of 21 counties would have lost $1 million or more under an inventory tax repeal.

Kanawha County would have had the largest total amount lost, at $11.02 million — although that amounts to just 5 percent of the county’s $206.2 million total property tax collections.

Putnam County would have lost $6.29 million. That would have amounted to 10 percent of its $62.23 million total.

Some counties that are home to recent manufacturing projects already take in less in property taxes than one might think.

Berkeley County, home of the massive, $500 million Procter & Gamble manufacturing complex, would have lost just $4.33 million out of $95.18 million in total property taxes, or 4.5 percent.

The equipment in the P&G plant was bought with bonds sold by the state Development Office, which then leased the equipment back to P&G, so the county doesn’t pay the inventory tax on that equipment.

State officials have done the same for a number of major manufacturing projects, including the Gestamp plant in South Charleston.

Conversely, 12 rural counties with little manufacturing would have lost less than $50,000 each in 2018 if the inventory tax had been repealed.

The lost revenue in Doddridge County would have amounted to about one one-thousandth of 1 percent of total property tax revenue.

A number of southern coalfield counties would also have seen minimal impact.

Boone County would have lost less than 1 percent — $22,304 of $26.24 million — of its 2018 property tax revenue. Lincoln County would have lost $4,093 of $9.51 million, and McDowell County would have lost $14,580 of $13.29 million.

The current push

The current push in the state Legislature to get rid of the inventory tax (SJR8) would phase it out over four years, by taking the current 60 percent assessment and reducing it by 15 percent a year.

The proposal also says replacement revenue — starting at $25 million the first year, and growing by $25 million a year until it reaches $100 million — should be placed in future state budgets.

But again, this resolution doesn’t say exactly where that replacement money comes from. Adler, the head of the counties association, said his members won’t be comfortable with any such proposal without a fixed source of revenue to make up what the tax would have brought in.

And even under the current proposal, the uncertain $25 million in revenue added to the budget wouldn’t come close to the $91 million the inventory tax brought counties in 2018.

Even if legislators come to an agreement on removing the tax, it won’t be easy to get it passed. Because changing the inventory tax would require an amendment to the state constitution, two-thirds of members in the state Senate and House of Delegates would have to approve it, and then the amendment would be placed on November’s general election ballot, where voters would have the final say.

Adler hopes that means if the proposal moves forward, it will have a bipartisan agreement on where the replacement money will come from.

“I think Senate leadership certainly has been very sensitive to making counties whole, where nobody gets hurt,” he said.

Who can topple Trump? Dems' electability fight rages in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — The urgent fight for the Democratic presidential nomination was raging across Iowa on Sunday as the party’s leading candidates and their allies fanned out across the state to deliver closing arguments centered on the defining question of the 2020 primary: Who is best positioned to defeat President Donald Trump?

Liberal firebrands Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders debated electability from dueling rallies 200 miles apart as they scrambled to reach as many voters as possible before being forced to return to Washington for Trump’s impeachment trial. With Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses just eight days away, it was unclear when the two senators would return.

“We gotta win. That’s a huge part of this,” Warren told several hundred people in Davenport, on the eastern edge of the state. “And also, can we just address it right there? Women win. The world changed when Donald Trump got elected.”

She added: “I know how to fight and I know how to win.”

Sanders and a collection of high-profile surrogates made an equally aggressive case in the rural community of Perry in central Iowa, having spent much of the weekend highlighting the candidate’s ability to energize a “multi-generational, multi-racial, working-class” coalition.

“The reason we are going to win here in Iowa is we have the strongest grassroots movement of any campaign,” Sanders said.

Sanders, perhaps more than Warren, has emerged as a central figure in the electability debate as new polls showed him gaining strength with the Feb. 3 caucuses nearing. Sanders’ strength sparked a growing sense of concern from his more moderate Democratic rivals, who fear that the 78-year-old Sanders is too radical to beat Trump in a one-on-one matchup this fall.

Stoking those fears, Trump’s campaign on Sunday teased a general election attack against Sanders. The Vermont senator had spent much of the day before campaigning alongside New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the president’s team sent out an email with the title, “Socialist invasion.”

“Why is radical socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spending so much time campaigning for Bernie? Because he’s the godfather of her extreme agenda and socialist vision for America,” the email said.

Before Sanders took the stage Sunday, one of his surrogates, filmmaker Michael Moore, defended democratic socialism and warned that more attacks were coming.

“You’re going to hear a lot now. The knives are sharpened,” Moore said.

One of the establishment favorites, Joe Biden, was appearing alongside U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, the latest in a growing list of local elected officials backing the former vice president.

Asked whether some party leaders are growing nervous about Sanders’ rise, Axne said: “Oh, my goodness I should really hope so.”

The youngest candidate in the race, 38-year-old Pete Buttigieg, was also playing up warnings about Sanders in his closing argument. With several polls showing Sanders in a strong position, Buttigieg’s campaign sent an email to supporters Saturday with the subject line: “Bernie Sanders could be the nominee.”

“We need a nominee who can galvanize our country,” the email said. “The Trump presidency will end one way or another, and when it does we need a president who can rally this country around a vision for the next generation. We know that candidate is Pete.”

Speaking to reporters at a subsequent event, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, stopped short of directly criticizing Sanders, but noted that “we are getting into the heart of the competition.”

“I believe that we should be very mindful that the very worst risk we can take at a time like this is to recycle the same Washington-style of political warfare that that brought us to this point,” Buttigieg said. “If we believe it’s important to win, and I sure do, then the best thing we could do is put forward a candidate who offers something new.”

Even with new rounds of state and national polls, a deep sense of uncertainty loomed over the Iowa contest.

One major complication: Several candidates will be forced to return to Washington on Monday, compelled by the Constitution to sit as jurors in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. The proceedings make it virtually impossible for the senators — Sanders, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado — to appear in Iowa during the week, although there is some sense that the trial could be over by week’s end.

As Iowa drew the most focus, billionaire candidate Tom Steyer reminded union workers in Nevada, which hosts the third contest on the primary calendar, that he hasn’t forgotten about them. Other candidates sent surrogates or appeared via phone or video.

“I’m know that I’m the only person who showed up here. That doesn’t actually shock me,” Steyer told reporters at the union conference in Las Vegas. “I try to show up and show that I care.”

Back in Iowa, Warren seized a dose of momentum of her own on Saturday after picking up a coveted endorsement from The Des Moines Register. The newspaper called her “the best leader for these times” and said she “is not the radical some perceive her to be” even if “some of her ideas for ‘big, structural change’ go too far.”

Warren leaned into her gender as she courted several hundred voters at an elementary school gymnasium in Davenport.

“We took back the House and we took back statehouses around the nation because of women candidates and the women who get out there and do the hard work,” she said.

“How are we going to win this thing?” she said. “We’re going to win it by drawing the distinction between the most corrupt administration in history, and a Democrat that’s willing to get out there and fight.”

Polls suggest Biden also has a substantial appeal among Democratic voters, especially African Americans. While he has been critical of Sanders in the past, he kept his focus instead on the threat of four more years of Trump in the White House.

“I don’t believe we are the dark, angry nation that Donald Trump tweets about at night,” he told a large crowd in Ankeny. “We are so much better than Donald Trump.”

Biden scored the endorsement of the Sioux City Journal, which called him “the candidate best positioned to give Americans a competitive head-to-head matchup with President Trump” and said he would be best at attracting support from “independents and disgruntled Republicans.”

Biden’s itinerary Sunday reflects his ability to attract a broad coalition of his own.

A devout Catholic, Biden attended Mass in Des Moines in the morning before heading to a union hall. Then he was scheduled to speak to a gathering of the NAACP and other minority advocacy groups.

After talking up the benefits of union members, Biden was asked about the GOP’s attempts during the impeachment trial to raise questions about his son Hunter’s work in Ukraine.

“You guys know it’s a bunch of malarkey,” he said.


Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont and Bill Barrow in Des Moines, Iowa, Sara Burnett in Davenport, Iowa, Will Weissert in Perry, Iowa and Michelle Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.