The December 21 Pocahontas County Commission meeting coin- cided with the 200th birthday of the county, which was formed on December 21, 1821. The commission be-gan its meeting with a celebration of sorts. Michael Holstine, dressed in period clothing, appeared on the large Zoom Meeting screen in the commission room, and speaking contemporaneously as if it was 1821, he related the story of the founding of the county, and ended with the following:
“It is a time for celebration throughout this new county. For you good people have now established a home that can be called yours – to guide to your own prosperity. May she live as an example of honest friendship, of equal freedom, and of generous reciprocity.”
Commission President Walt Helmick read the official proclamation celebrating the Bicentennial of the county, Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds also appeared via Zoom and read a resolution recently passed by the Virginia State Senate congratulating Pocahontas County on its Bicentennial. This was appropriate since it was the Virginia Legislature that created and named Pocahontas County back in 1821. On December 18 at a Bicentennial celebration in Huntersville, West Virginia Senator Bill Hamilton read a resolution passed by the West Virginia State Senate congratulating Pocahontas County.
The celebration over, the commissioners moved forward with their regular meeting.
Lauren Bennett, Director of Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation, briefed the commission on that entity’s projects. She said they reworked the water system at Stillwell Park, and may add a skate park there in the future. She said they are planning to do upgrades at Whitney Park this year, and are looking for a grant to do a walking trail around Hillsboro which will have several small “pocket parks” along it, including one at the site of the old bank building in downtown Hillsboro. She said that building is supposed to be demolished in February.
B.J. Gudmundson, of Preserving Pocahontas, also provided an update. She talked about the work they did helping the Bicentennial Committee with old photos for their program and providing photos for the Greenbrier River Trail’s interpretive signs and described several new collections. She also said they are in the pro-cess of redoing their website.
Peggy Owens delivered an update on the Pocahontas County Arts Council. She said that because of COVID, most of their work with students was done this year at their studios rather than in the schools. She also talked about the Watoga Art in the Park event, their collaboration with the Family Resource Network, and their Halloween Trunk or Treat event.
Pocahontas County Prosecutor Terry Helmick talked about a personnel matter with the commission. Although this was done in Executive Session, Commission President Helmick later explained this was about possibly hiring a temporary replacement for an employee who is off due to medical issues.
There was also a Broadband Project update. Sam Felton and Commissioner Jesse Groseclose explained that the current study grant is moving forward and the approved ARC Grant is now beginning with the environmental studies. They also said that the Broadband Council has decided to apply for the Reconnect Grant instead of the State’s ARPA Gig-Ready Grant because it allows more time for an Internet Service Provider to complete their buildouts. They feel that extra time will be needed.
In other actions, the commission:
• awarded the county gasoline contract to Woodford Oil, the only bidder.
• extended the WV Division of Forestry’s lease at the Former Shoe Factory but at an increased monthly rental of $500.
• approved an agreement with Thompson and Litton regarding the Broadband Project, and approved a drawdown from the Broadband Study Grant Funds of about $23,550. This leaves about $31,284 in that grant fund.
• issued a notice of intent to consolidate a portion of Precinct 12 into Precinct 13 and create a new Precinct 22, all in the Central Magisterial District because of the 2020 Census redistricting.
• discussed the four storage tanks at the East Fork Industrial Park that the commission sold to Buster Varner in 2011, which he has not removed from the site. They said that in a letter they sent Varner last July, they told him he has until January 20 to move them off the property.
The commission also discussed inviting Pocahontas County School administrators to a future meeting to hold a work session with them to discuss financial matters and the “1400 Formula” funds the schools receive from the state.
They read the latest MTA ridership numbers, which indicate that ridership appears up, especially with the Snowshoe Run. Tim Thomas from the MTA told the commission that Pocahontas County is now the second most active county served by the MTA.
Commissioner John Rebinski expressed his concern about the proposed state constitutional amendment that will be voted on next year. He said, if passed, it would do away with the state personal income tax, which would seriously hurt the county financially since it depends on that tax revenue to function.