Commission and BOE members share budget woes

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The regularly scheduled Pocahontas County Commission meeting on March 21, 2017 convened promptly at 5:30 p.m. with recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

This being the first regular commission meeting since the time change, I was thrilled to discover as I walked up to the courthouse, that it was still daylight. Further proof of the arrival of spring occurred early in the proceedings when meeting room windows were opened to let in “fresh air.”

With no public input, the commissioners got right down to business.

An agreement between the commission and Fire and Life Safety America, Inc. for repair of the sprinkler system at the former shoe factory building was brought before the commissioners.

It was noted that this company had completed some “good work” for Pendleton Bank in Franklin.

Commissioner David McLaughlin noted that the total price for the project was quoted in the contract as $14,180 and agreed with commission president Bill Beard’s recommendation that it should be paid in two payments, withholding final payment until approval of the work by the state fire marshal. A motion to that effect passed unanimously.

The commissioners next moved to approve the 2017-2018 budget with which they had wrestled with for the last few weeks in budget meetings. 
Beard explained that the levy rate had to be raised because the county was running approximately $2,000 behind in revenue from last year. 
The new levy rate applied to balance this year’s budget will be 14.19 – up from last years’s rate of 14.15. The commissioners unanimously approved the new budget, which was then signed by the county clerk.

Glenn Galloway of Pocahontas County Day Report came before the commission to present his monthly report. 

He reported that February had a total of 16 participants, with two participants being new to the program. One participant completed the program in February, zero were terminated, zero were participants in drug court, zero were on home confinement and zero were in rehab. 
Males in the program totaled 10, the number of females was six. Total number of participants who were unemployed, three, and the number of participants who found employment during the month, zero.

The number of drug screenings completed during the month was up and totaled 64 (36 for Day Report and 28 for DHHR). There were five positive drug screens – all upon intake into the program. There were 31 negative screens. Day Report alcohol screens totaled 36 with only one positive result, and that was on intake into the program, as well.

Galloway reported that 120 hours of community service was done during the month, with that service taking place at the Day Report Center, the town of Marlinton and at the Wellness Center.

Discussion about the Day Report Center continued as it was mentioned that a circuit judge was planning to attend a monthly Day Report board meeting.

Galloway thanked Laura Young, the Director of the FRN and commission administrative assistant Sue Helton for their work in writing and submitting a grant request for additional funds for Day Report.

Next on the agenda was discussion regarding replacing the name of the designated project director on the Pocahontas County 2017-2018 Court Security Grant application. The grant requires that someone other than a member of the commission be designated as the project manager. Beard’s name was removed as project director from the application, allowing Sue Helton to serve as designated project director. The change was approved unanimously.

In correspondence, the commission received information regarding risk pool insurance from their insurance company and a response to the commission counsel Bob Martin’s letter to the Buckskin Council regarding the sale of land at Dilley’s Mill Boy Scout Camp.

Martin began his report by discussing his ongoing correspondence with the Boy Scouts, characterizing their attitude as less than forthcoming. The Buckskin Council, countering the commission’s request that they come to a commission meeting, had mentioned in their letter an invitation to the commissioners to attend the Buckskin Council’s April meeting. 

There was a letter from the town of Durbin, notifying the commission that the town council had unanimously adopted the dog ordinance. Commissioners are waiting to hear that the ordinance has been adopted by the towns of Marlinton and Hillsboro.

Notice had also been received regarding new state legislation being considered at the capitol requiring counties to have a rotational system in place for assigning towing companies when needed at accident sites. The new legislation allows counties to establish districts from which to make the rotational designations. This law is being considered to eliminate confusion and friction between law enforcement and towing companies.

Martin also mentioned the intention of coach Randy Irvine to ask for permission to use the former  Shoe Factory building and some equipment there for Pocahontas County High School baseball practice. Martin reviewed some of the insurance issues involved and said that the issue would first need to be brought before the Board of Education for approval before coming to the county commission. 

Counsel then discussed the pre-petition being drafted to create a Resort Area District (RAD) at Snowshoe. The last RAD voting procedure was confusing but the new effort will include ballots being sent to all residents and sealed votes being returned to the commission for the vote count. 

There is significant support from homeowners within the proposed RAD boundaries, with 61 percent of property owners being signatories to the petition. 

The creation of the RAD would include an assessment limited to 2.5 percent, to be used for capital improvements (for instance, a $16 million project is being considered to build a gondola between Snowshoe and Silver Creek). The 2.5 percent assessment would be initiated with a three-year grace period after passage of the new petition. 

A two percent resort service fee (RSF) for goods and services would replace the Mountain Top Assessment. Implementation of the RSF will be delayed until January 1, 2018.

Pocahontas County Board of Education members Joe Walker and Jessica Hefner appeared before the commission to discuss the serious shortfall in the board’s budget and the serious financial difficulties facing the school system since the education levy was defeated. 

The issue was discussed at great length.

Walker opened by saying “we’re not coming to ask the commission for anything specific, but just to let you know what the issues are as we go forward this year. 

“We’ve done everything we can to work within our budget but the problem is that we are facing major physical improvements at our schools which we do not have the money for.”

The shortfall of $377,000 in forestry money, which the board will not receive this year, has only exacerbated an already difficult financial situation. And a warning from inspectors regarding the inadequacy of the sprinkler systems at the Green Bank and Marlinton schools, has been upgraded from a case of “you should fix these,” to “you shall fix these.”

“We need to come up with a plan about what to do with our students in the event that something happens to one of our schools,” Walker explained. “We are going to be seeking community input as to how to best proceed.”

McLaughlin asked Walker about the possibility of selling some of the undeveloped Green Bank property to alleviate some of the financial stress. 

Walker replied that although the board is looking into selling timber from that property, the decision has been to hold on to that property in case it is ever needed for the building of another school.

In the meantime, the board is looking at a lot of needed repairs at the existing schools.

“We are probably looking at fixing Green Bank and Marlinton elementary schools as our first priorities,” Walker said. “We estimate it will take $140,000 to do the immediate repairs at Marlinton Elementary. But there’s no use in putting it out for bids if we don’t have the money to do anything.”

Beard said the commission recognizes this as a serious issue.

“We are already very tight on our budget,” Beard said. “We already had to use $30,000 of carry-over funds just to balance the new budget. Our revenues aren’t staying even – we’re losing ground.

“I’m not trying to discourage you,” Beard told Walker, “but this situation is a hard one.”

Martin referred Walker to the company who is doing the sprinkler renovation at the ARC building and suggested that perhaps the Board of Education could get an estimate from them for the sprinkler repairs needed at the two schools.

Walker thanked the commission and asked that the commission keep the schools in mind.

The next county commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4, at 8:30 a.m.

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