Allegheny Mountain Radio
The discussion at the February 7 Pocahontas County Commission meeting centered around the commission’s proposed project priorities. At the work session which followed the regular meeting, several proposals were considered to change the way Hotel/Motel Tax revenue is distributed.
During the regular meeting, Commissioner Jamie Walker laid out his views:
“From the input I have gotten from the community, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that the EMS is number one,” Walker said. “The water and sewer coming from the hospital through the Buckeye-Beard Heights area, is definitely, in my opinion, number two. The 911 Center, with the storage area for the ambulances, is definitely number 3. And the annex is put on the bottom at number four. That’s my input from the county.”
Commission President Walt Helmick immediately jumped in and said he agreed the ambulance crisis and staffing county ambulances is a very important project, but he seemed to dispute that the courthouse annex should be the lowest priority, and still sees supporting the hospital as the most important priority for the commission.
“There is money to do the Annex – two or three different ways, and I just don’t feel prepared to explain this,” Helmick said. “We have the money for it, but we could also shift that money to the hospital, if necessary. The reason we are talking about the annex is the State Supreme Court is going to require us – and they need to come here and explain it – but they are going to require us to change a lot of this building. Coming in this building you’re not going to be able to come through that main door. We’re going to funnel everyone through one section, which is probably down here on this side lane. They will funnel everybody through there; it is near the elevator, but there will be nobody coming through the front door.”
Helmick went on to say this was being required by the State Supreme Court for safety from potential gun violence and also fire safety. He said this will mean there is a need to move the Magistrate’s office and courtrooms from their present location in the basement of the courthouse and he wants to move them into the proposed new courthouse annex. He said the new annex would also house the Family Court, which is now located across the street, as well as housing offices for the sheriff’s deputies. Helmick said the annex could also be used to store the County Clerk’s records and deeds, as they are running out of space for them in the main courthouse.
Immediately after the regular meeting, the commission opened a work session to discuss proposals for distribution of Hotel/Motel Tax revenue.
Commissioner John Rebinski offered his proposal, which includes the following fixed amount payments which would be subtracted from Hotel/Motel Tax receipts after the Convention and Visitors Bureau receives its state-required 50 percent:
• $170,000 from the remaining Hotel/Motel Tax Revenue to start the Pocahontas County Paid Ambulance Service.
• Fixed payment to the Fire Board of $120,000; although Rebinski said he would also eliminate the $60,000 of non-Hotel/Motel Tax money, which the commission currently provides to the Fire Board.
• Provide fixed payments to the Hospital of $75,000; to the EMS Board in the amount of $75,000; and to the commission’s Bricks and Mortar fund in the amount of $30,000.
• His proposal would also provide $50,000 for a Sheriff Cruiser and trailer, which would be a one-time payment this year only.
Rebinski’s proposal would also change the percentages of the remaining seven organizations that receive Hotel/Motel Tax proceeds.
• Eliminate the 3% that the Artisan’s Co-op receives entirely; (for a new total of 0%)
• Take 1/2% from Preserving Pocahontas’ current 3% (for a new total of 2.5%.)
• Take 1/2% and from the Arts Council’s current 4% (for a new total of 3.5%.)
• Add 1% to Historic Landmarks’ current 5% (for a new total of 6%.)
• Add 2% to Dramas, Fairs & Festivals current 20% (for a new total of 22%.)
• Take 2% from Parks and Recreation’s current 33% (for a new total of 31%.)
• Take 2% from the libraries current 32% (for a new total of 30%.)
Rebinski’s proposal would also add a new percentage category: 5% for County Commission Hotel/Motel projects, which could be distributed to qualified organizations on a need basis.
Rebinski also said that he will be approaching the start-up of the paid EMS project “slowly and cautiously,” and to implement it county-wide would not be financially feasible but he said the $170,000 plus an estimated $125,000 in EMS fees generated by ambulance service fees paid by patients’ medical insurance, would enable him to start a 10-hour day-shift to cover seven days with a paid staff of two in the northern end of the county, and that might be enough to pay for the first year of service in the northern end, and possibly in the southern end of the county, as well. These two employees would be one EMT or Paramedic and one driver, plus a part-time worker. He said if there are any gaps in the daytime coverage, he would count on the volunteers to cover those.
Rebinski said that he would as quickly as possible, expand that day-shift paid coverage to the entire county, which would require one additional county ambulance that he is hoping would be donated by one of the lower-end volunteer departments, just as Cass VFD is doing in the upper end of the county. He said that expansion would add additional revenue from insurance payments, but would still probably require more county money, so only when it is affordable would he expand it to the entire county, and eventually, with more funding, to a 24/7 county-wide paid coverage. He said his start-up plan still depends on having the current volunteers to cover the evening and nighttime EMS calls.
Walker offered his own Hotel/Motel Tax distribution proposal, which for the fixed amount distributions, would:
• Increase Rebinski’s $170,000 for the ambulance service to $200,000
• Reduce the current $30,000 the Bricks and Mortars receives to $25,000.
• Keep the Hospital, Fire Board and EMS Board the same as they currently receive.
Walker’s proposal would also keep the current percentages for the seven organizations that currently receive funding, and not add any additional organizations to this.
Additionally, Walker offered his ideas for the new EMS Ambulance Service:
“I am not in favor of starting only one unit,” Walker said. “I think that’s separating the county out, and showing favoritism to different parts – from one end to the other. I think we need to do two units. If we can’t do it, then we can’t do it, but that is what we need to do. I would like to do two units, 12-hour shifts, seven days-a-week. You are looking at $484,032 for four paramedics, four EMTs and eight drivers – that’s salaries alone. That’s paying a Paramedic $20 an hour and EMT $17 an hour and a driver $14 an hour. Now, that’s roughly a dollar an hour more than Greenbrier and Randolph counties (pay) on average. That’s 16 people full time, and four part-time. I figure them at roughly $18 an hour. I figure 80 days a year – that comes to $17,280 dollars a year on top of that. That’s vacation, sick leave-whatever. We got Hillsboro willing to give us an ambulance, Marlinton’s willing to donate us an ambulance. I think we can get coverage there well presented through the volunteer side.”
Rebinski asked Walker why he includes a higher pay rate than Rebinski had proposed, and Walker said we have no choice if we want to find people to take the jobs.
Walker estimates this will cost $1 million, of which $200,000 of that will come from Hotel/Motel Tax revenue. He said this figure is based on the estimated percentage of extra calls generated by tourists, and this leaves the county commission to come up with the remaining $800,000 to start and run the ambulances in the entire county until additional sustainable sources of funding the program can be put into place.
No decisions were made regarding either the Hotel/ Motel Tax distribution proposals or the funding of the new ambulance service, only discussion.
In other business, the commission:
• approved draw request #7 in the amount or $3,087 from the Broadband Study Grant. Amanda Smarr of Region 4 explained that the money from this draw will be used to pay four invoices from the Thompson and Litton Company which has been assisting the Pocahontas County Broadband Council in applying for broadband grants. Smarr said that $11,000 remains in the study grant award, which will be used to develop applications for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Connect Grants
• appointed Kristen Beverage and David Moore to the Dramas, Festivals and Fairs Board.
• granted three contribution requests:
1. $5,000 contribution for the Child and Youth Advocacy. Francesca Zarcon explained that they work with Child Protective Services and Law enforcement in conducting forensic interviews of children who are victims of child abuse as well as teaching children in the schools about how to report abuse.
2. $5,000 for Northern Pocahontas County Community Assistance, Inc. Tony Byrd explained that they help the Senior Citizen Program and with veterans’ meals.
3. $5,000 to help make-up for diminished state financial support to pay performance fees at the Opera House. Requested by Opera House director Bryn Kusic
• At the request of their lawyer, Stephen Skinner, the commission voted to sign releases for settling the county’s opioid lawsuit with several defendant companies. Helmick explained that about four years ago, the county joined this nationwide class-action lawsuit against the companies responsible for the opioid overdose crisis both here, across the state, and across the nation. Although no proposed award amounts were announced at this meeting, Helmick declared that 100 percentage of any monetary award the county receives from this lawsuit will be dedicated to battling the drug problem in the county.
A special commission meeting was held January 31, which featured representatives from the West Virginia Development Office reviewing the implementation forms required for two grants:
1. The Thornwood Waterline Extension Project
2. The Demolition Project to remove the former Board of Education Building in Marlinton.
The Development Office’s Project Managers for each of these grant projects reviewed each page of these implementation forms. Region 4 will actually handle completion of these forms, which include budget, project schedule, scope of work, procurement, labor, environmental and project closeout.