The Pocahontas County hotel/motel tax generates roughly a million dollars for the county government every year. The vast majority of those tax proceeds comes from Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
State law requires that hotel/motel tax proceeds be spent on tourism-related activities. At least 50 percent must go to the County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Other permissible expenditures include parks, recreation facilities, promotion of the arts, historic sites and no more than $200,000 for medical and emergency services.
During its January 28 meeting, the Pocahontas County Commission allocated the tax proceeds for fiscal year 2014. After the mandatory minimum 50 percent allocation to the CVB, the commission gave $75,000 to the Emergency Medical Services Board; $75,000 to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital; and $50,000 to the Fire Association.
Normally, the commission allocates $30,000 per year to a “bricks and mortar” courthouse repair fund, but deviated from that policy last year, when it distributed $25,000 to various groups and deposited just $5,000 in the courthouse fund. The commission repeated that practice this year and deposited $5,000 into the bricks and mortar fund; gave $15,000 to the Parks and Recreation Board; $5,000 to the Artisans’ Cooperative and $5,000 to the Pocahontas County Free Libraries (PCFL) Board.
Following those initial allocations, based on a $1 million dollar hotel/motel tax collection, the commission will have $470,000 remaining, and distributed it as follows: 33 percent ($151,100) to the PCFL Board; 33 percent ($151,100) to Parks and Recreation; 22 percent ($103,400) to the Dramas, Fairs and Festivals Board; six percent ($28,200) to the Historic Landmarks Commission and six percent ($28,200) to the Arts Council.
Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire Chief Kenneth Varner and Marlinton Assistant Fire Chief Herb Barlow pleaded with the commission for more financial support for local fire departments and rescue squads. Commission President David Fleming explained the $200,000 limit on the hotel/motel tax allocation, but promised that the commission would try to find additional money for the departments.
In response to comments by Commissioner Jamie Walker that he wants to cut county animal shelter funding “dramatically,” several shelter employees and volunteers spoke in opposition of Walker’s plan.
The commission currently budgets $50,000 per year for shelter supplies and equipment, plus a full-time shelter manager and a contract part-time employee. The county also employs an Animal Control Officer, who has duties apart from the animal shelter.
Fleming said he had received feedback on shelter funding.
“Everybody that I got feedback from is really proud of the shelter and doesn’t want to see us cut funding, if we don’t have to.” he said.
The lease with the former operators of Allegheny Recreation Center ended in August, so the county will save $12,000 per year in sub-lease payments for the shelter space.
“We won’t have to spend that $12,000 for the building or the animal shelter in the building,” Fleming added. “That’s good news. I think it makes sense to take that out of the budget and use it for other things. I’ll let Mr. Walker talk about his thoughts on further funding cuts but for my part, I’m happy with leaving the budget as is. I wouldn’t mind seeing it increased for the job they’re doing.”
Sheriff David Jonese was a strong advocate for establishing a county-operated shelter and his department has operated the shelter in Marlinton for the past two years.
“We’re very proud of what they’ve done at that shelter and how far they’ve come,” said Jonese. “They ran a 30-second spot on the Clarksburg TV station on the shelter down here. It’s one of the top shelters in the state.”
DeAnna Shipe and Shay Huffman formed the non-profit Pocahontas Shelter Advocates in order to place local shelter animals in permanent homes and no-kill rescues. Their efforts have helped the shelter maintain a below-capacity animal population and virtually eliminated the need to euthanize animals for space.
“I’ve gotten dogs transported to Montana, Idaho, New Jersey, Wisconsin – to homes and rescues,” said Shipe. “All that involves a lot of people, transporting and helping and it’s putting Pocahontas County on the map. They’re aware of Pocahontas County now because of the animals.”
Huffman said many abandoned hunting dogs, such as Walker Hounds, have been adopted by families in New York State.
“We’ve had a lot of them go up to New York, where they think our really large size beagles are really cool,” she said. “They become wonderful house pets because they’re such beautiful animals.”
Walker said the animal shelter was low on his list of priorities.
“The only thing that I had an issue with is, there’s a lot of things in this county that’s hurting for funding, majorly, you know,” he said. “The fire and rescue is setting right here. That’s people, that’s not animals. It could be any one of us in this room at any time needs them. You got the hospital, you got the school, the emergency medical. The funding just continuously gets cut and it’s getting cut for us, you know. For me, and it’s just my opinion, to me, humans and human life is more important than animal life. If there’s going to be a cut, I’m going to cut the animals before I cut the humans.”
Shipe responded that many organizations and churches exist to help humans experiencing bad times, but the only place helping animals was the local shelter.
“Nothing but the shelter, that’s all they have,” she said.
Commissioner William Beard talked about calls he received after Walker’s comments were published.
“The people I talked to said the animal shelter is one of the better things that’s happened in this county,” he said. “A past commissioner today told me that it’s the best situation we’ve had for a shelter and we need to keep it there. I know there’s a lot of volunteer time being put in and we’re going to do everything within our power, I think, to continue to fund it and maybe update it, if we can, with the funds available.”
Beard said the commission might not be able to reinvest the $12,000 in lease savings back into the shelter, because of other needs, but that he did not envision a funding cut. Beard asked shelter manager Robin Robertson to submit a regular report on shelter operations, which Robertson agreed to do. The commission will take action on animal shelter funding in March, when it prepares its annual budget.
Jason Bauserman, with the Historic Landmarks Commission, gave an update on a project to make Travelers Repose, in Bartow, a protected historic site. Jessie Beard Powell, the owner of the famous former stagecoach stop and Civil War battle site, died last June, leaving the property to her three daughters.
“This is one of these unbelievable, historic Civil War sites that has been untouched and there’s very few, maybe none left in the United States, that hasn’t been preserved,” said Bauserman. “Everything is being encroached upon in the other areas. I’d say 95 percent of the people in Pocahontas County have not been there and don’t even know what’s there. You’ve got to go up on a hillside to see it. There’s big cannon breastworks. There’s a bunch of gun holes. It’s pretty incredible what’s up there.”
Bauserman said $420,000 in grant money had been obtained to establish an historic site at Travelers Repose, but that a decision from Powell’s daughters on the site disposition was still forthcoming.
In other business, the county commission:
– Heard a request from Kermit Friel to look into Snowshoe sewage plant project easements;
– Appointed Fleming to the North Central Community Corrections Board;
– Agreed to move forward with floor repairs and other repairs at the Hanover Building;
– Approved a $24,788 purchase of a Sheriff’s Department home detention vehicle;
– Discussed the status of local Internet service with Frontier Communications representatives (see separate article on this topic).