The Pocahontas County Commission deferred action on a courthouse security grant application until it receives information from a neighboring county on its courthouse security plan. In particular, the commission wants to know how many new employees the county will have to hire.
The commission has until April 1 to submit a request for grant funding of more than $159,000 from the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services. The grant will pay for security equipment, such as surveillance cameras and metal detectors, but the county will have to hire new employees to guard the main entrance and monitor surveillance equipment. The county will also incur service costs to maintain the security equipment.
Commissioner David Fleming said the prospects for getting the money are good.
“We have until April 1 to decide on this,” he said. “The amount is for $159,524. Being our first request for the court security grant program, Mr. [Judge Joseph] Pomponio feels we have a strong chance of being funded for that.”
Fleming said he is aware of concerns.
“I realize there are several in the county who are concerned where this leads – the idea of too much security and too much invasion on personal rights and such,” he said. “I feel like this is a prudent step, myself. To apply for the security grant funding, we’ll be better able to protect our employees and the public that we serve. We have had a number of incidents with offices, in just the five years that I’ve been here, that have really scared our workers and elected officials at times.”
Sheriff David Jonese said Pocahontas County is one of the only counties in the state without enhanced courthouse security.
“I think there’s only two courthouses in the state that have not put in courthouse security measures,” he said. “We’re one of them.”
Al Morris, with Kanawha County security firm Mason and Berry, advised the commission on different types of security equipment that can be installed. Morris said a “top tier” system, like the one the firm installed at the Greenbrier County Courthouse, would incur an annual service cost of approximately $19,000 – which does not include the cost of guards.
Fleming said he foresees hiring two full-time guards.
“My feeling is that this will be two full-time positions,” he said. “But maybe that’s too much. Maybe it is one full-time position and one part time. I guess I thought there’d be a full-time position in there. We talked about a $40,000 compensation package total, 40 to 50 [thousand], salary plus benefits, insurance and all that.”
Commissioner William Beard suggested more planning.
“We could kind of put a time schedule together and see whether you could get by with one-and-a-half, or will it be cheaper with four part-time, like Commissioner Walker said,” he said.
Commissioner Jamie Walker agreed more planning was needed.
“I think we’d be ahead to get more of a plan in place, to know exactly what we’re going to need and what the money’s going to be,” he said.
Circuit Clerk Connie Carr agreed to find out details of Greenbrier County’s security plan and report back to the commission. The commission agreed to defer action on the grant application until after it reviews the information.
Following the November 10 fire in Marlinton, the commission donated $6,000 to aid displaced fire victims. The Family Resource Network (FRN) was the agent for that money and solicited donations from other sources on the victims’ behalf. FRN Director Laura Young told the commission that more than $25,000 was raised from other sources – more than enough to aid the fire victims – and the director presented a check for $6,000 back to the commission.
Roger Cain, displaced by the fire from the Old Bank Building, talked about the help he received from the FRN.
“Without those folks, we’d have been in trouble,” he said. “Fantastic job. They were right on the ground with us from day one. Any place we needed, whatever we needed, they were there. If we had a problem, it was solved immediately. Laura and her staff, I just can’t say enough good about those folks.”
Young said better planning was needed to coordinate the efforts of service and relief groups during an emergency. The director requested $10,000 from the commission to fund a Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) position for emergency planning. The commission unanimously approved Young’s request for $10,000.
The commission considered a letter in support of local broadband Internet providers applying for grants from the Connect America Fund (CAF), a project administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC seeks to accelerate broadband build-out to rural areas with the grants.
Fleming read a draft of a letter, which he said was intended to accompany CAF grant applications by Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone, Frontier Communications and Shentel, if any of the companie apply for CAF funding.
“We ask that you help our rural Internet providers by making Connect America funding available to them, so they can help us grow Pocahontas County on the world wide web,” Fleming read. “Without your help, we risk falling behind further in the digital divide.”
The FCC announced on December 6, 2013 that Frontier Communications would receive $22.3 million in CAF Phase 1 funding to improve broadband service to 36,000 homes and businesses in rural areas of West Virginia over the next three years. The company has not disclosed whether that project will include Pocahontas County. Frontier received a total of $72 million in CAF funds for rural broadband projects nationwide.
After minor changes, the commission voted unanimously to approve the letter, which will be provided to the three local Internet providers.
Preserving Pocahontas Preservation Officer B.J. Gudmundsson gave an annual update to the commission. Gudmundsson reported that the project had obtained non-profit status through the IRS in 2013 and also received a state tax credit of $5,000, which can be passed along to private donors. The project officer displayed several photographs and documents which were incorporated into a digital archive during the previous year, including a transcript of former Pocahontas Times editor Cal Price’s appearance on a New York City radio show.
Gudmundsson said she had established a budget of $25,540 for this year and requested a line item in the fiscal year 2014 county budget of at least $10,000. Preserving Pocahontas received a total of $15,000 from the county last year, which helped fund hardware, software, services and an hourly wage, up to 20 hours per week, to the project officer. The project purpose is to expand a digital archive of historic Pocahontas County photographs and documents. The project website can be found at preservingpocahontas.org.
In other business, the commission tabled action on a request from Free Libraries Director Vicky Terry to support Senate Bill 465, which would allow counties to impose an additional levy of one cent per $100 for the sole purpose to support public libraries. A letter from Terry stated that the national average for financial support to libraries is $32 per capita, whereas in West Virginia it is only $13 per capita.
The next regular county commission meeting is scheduled for March 4 at 8:30 a.m.