On October 19, the Pocahontas County Commission held a special meeting, which began at 10 a.m. The meeting began with the commissioners speaking with Hanna Carter, the Project Manager for the Community Development Block Grant which will fund the installation of both an HVAC system and a roof at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital. Carter went over a number of technical contract-related documents that need to be submitted in conjunction with the grant.
They then discussed the Linwood Alive! Sidewalk Project with Morgan Haymond. Haymond said they are still working on securing easements along the proposed route of the new sidewalk, and expect to be able to give the commission an update on these in November or December. The state has reduced the funds they will commit to the project by $160,000, which Commission President Walt Helmick suggests might be made up by reducing the length of the sidewalk since it appears that one property owner of a five-acre tract at one end of the proposed project may be unwilling to grant an easement. Haymond said they have asked the Department of Highways (DOH) for a new budget in an attempt to recoup those lost funds. Helmick also suggested the cost of the project might also be reduced by using asphalt rather than concrete for the sidewalk. Haymond said the DOH is not “comfortable” with using asphalt.
The commission also discussed what they might fund with the $1.5 million the county received from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
Laura Young from the Family Resource Network (FRN) asked the commission for $200,000 to reimburse the FRN for its loss of funds due to COVID.
Young said, due to COVID, the FRN did not receive fees from the WV Department of Rehabilitation for assessments of the needs and abilities of disabled persons which was done on behalf of the WVDOR. Young explained the FRN depended on that money to provide the increased demands caused by COVID on their food pantry, utility bill assistance and other services to low-income people in the county.
Commissioner John Rebinski questioned whether using ARP funds would be appropriate for this without the FRN first seeking other ways to get these funds. Young said that they had no other options, and all funds received by the FRN go right back into the community.
Helmick contacted Andrew Robinson at Senator Joe Manchin’s Charleston office to get an explanation of what the ARP money can be used for. The funds may be used for the following:
• Support Public Health with programs such as vaccine clinics or procuring PPE.
• Make up for economic loss caused by the pandemic.
• Repay lost public sector revenue.
• Premium pay required by the pandemic for public safety or need.
• Infrastructure needed because of pandemic such as water, sewer or Broadband.
Helmick invited Young to ask Robinson about the $200,000, and Robinson said the FRN would fit into the ARP funding. Rebinski asked if the state had additional COVID funds and Robinson said the state has an additional $1.3 billion of COVID relief funding but has not yet determined how it will be spent.
After speaking with Robinson, Rebinski told Young that she should seek her funds from the state’s $1.3-billion fund rather than from the county’s $1.5 million.
Young said she is asking her local county commission for funds that will go back into the local community and has no way to ask the state for those funds.
For the remainder of the afternoon, the commission interviewed and heard presentations from three architectural firms bidding for Pocahontas Memorial Hospital’s HVAC and Roof project; and from three engineering firms bidding to be the engineers for the Water Sewer project for the property near the hospital.
At its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m., the commission discussed several issues prior to addressing their agenda items.
Commissioner Helmick announced that the redistricting of the county will divide the county into two House of Delegate districts. The northern end of the county will be in the 66th district along with portions of Randolph County, while the southern half of the county will share the 46th district with the eastern part of Greenbrier County. In the State Senate redistricting, Pocahontas County will be in the same Senate District as Braxton, Upshur, Barbour, Randolph and Pendleton counties.
Helmick also announced that as of October 25, 10 prisoners from the Huttonsville Correctional Center will be transported daily by the Mountain Transit Authority to work at Beckwith Lumber Company in Slaty Fork. He said they will be paid $11 per hour to start, which will increase to $12 per hour after a month, if the worker performs well. These are trustees who will be transported back to Huttonsville each day after work. This will help alleviate a shortage of workers at Beckwith. A similar program is already in place at Interstate Hardwoods in Bartow.
Helmick also talked about efforts of the commission to have the old jail building behind the courthouse removed from the National Registry of Historic Places so it can be torn down to make room for his proposed Courthouse Annex on that site. Helmick said he wants the Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks Commission to vote to allow the removal of the jail from that registry of historic places.
Several items on the agenda were pulled out of it or tabled to the next meeting
• A discussion of the purchase of Frontier Service and Maintenance plan was removed since Frontier just sent the commission an email saying they will no longer be selling those systems or plans.
• Consideration of a lease renewal of office space at the ARC building by the West Virginia Division of Forestry was put off until a future meeting because the commission wants to factor in the increased cost of utilities and needs more information about that.
• The selection of the winning architectural bid and engineering bid was talbed until Monday, October 25, at 5:30 p.m.
In other matters, the commission received an update from Laura Finch, Fiduciary Commissioner, about the status of referred estates. She said there are several cases where she will be issuing an Order to Show Cause because of inactivity by the estate representatives and none of the cases she has can be closed administratively.