By Staff and wire reports
Parkersburg News and Sentinel
CHARLESTON- The West Virginia Senate has passed legislation to allow Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley to become a for-profit business outside the scope of the state Board of Education.
The bill passed Thursday allows Cedar Lakes Conference Center to set salaries of its employees. In the past, the minimum salary requirements for school service personnel have applied to the center's employees.
Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said last year's education audit indicated the center, which organized recreation and educational opportunities for Future Farmers and Future Homemakers of America, no longer fit under the education board's scope.
He said it was a shame to see it divested from the state but looks forward to it being viable in the private sector.
Cedar Lakes in Jackson County was slated for closure when the West Virginia Board of Education determined that it could no longer continue to request financial support from the Legislature to support daily operations.
Plans are in the works for the property ownership to be transferred from the WVBE to the Cedar Lakes Foundation.
Cedar Lakes was established several decades ago and placed under the West Virginia Board of Education. The location is used by student groups as well as community members and offers lodging, meeting facilities and recreational facilities.
Cedar Lakes provides hotel and dormitory-style lodging, swimming, crafting courses, meeting facilities and dining services.
Cedar Lakes' most notable event is the annual Mountain State Art and Craft Fair in July.
Stan Hopkins, president of the Cedar Lakes Foundation, said the bill passed Thursday is an important step in the long journey for the transfer to eventually take place.
"It is the first step, but it is not the last," he said. "Any transfer of a public entity to a private one is a complex process."
This bill allows any new employees to be paid on a compensation structure that is more in line with the private sector, Hopkins said.
"There is still a lot of work to do (on the actual transfer)," he said.
Hopkins said work will continue into the 2015 legislative session on the transfer.
"There appears to be a lot of support in Charleston for this to happen," he said of support from the governor, the Legislature and other state officials.
Work will continue on the details and legal issues in making the transfer happen.
They have until July 2015 to work out a deal, Hopkins said.
The foundation is continuing its work, meeting, reworking its bylaws, and encouraging participation in the foundation.
"It is a process and we are moving forward," Hopkins said.
The bill now goes to the governor.