Commission gives $100,000 to Fire Association

During the Pocahontas County Commission meeting on Tuesday morning, Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire Chief Kenneth “Buster” Varner and Marlinton Fire Chief Herb Barlow offered advice on how a contribution of $100,000 to the six county fire departments should be allocated. The two fire chiefs told the commission that departments responding to a greater number of calls should get the majority of the contribution.

“My thought would be to divide it six ways,” said Commissioner David McLaughlin.

“The only thing about dividing that equally – Durbin has two stations,” said Varner. “The other thing is, some stations run a lot and some don’t run nearly as much as the others. Of course, the ones that run a lot have a lot more bills and finance issues. So, I’m not sure that dividing equally is the way to go.”

The Pocahontas County Fire Association board includes two representatives from each fire department in the county.

“My goal was to turn it over to the Association and let you all work it out,” said Commissioner Jamie Walker. “Because you all, obviously, should know more about what each other does than we do.”

Walker expressed concern that basing the money allocation on number of calls would result in unnecessary responses.

“I’ve heard complaints in the past that there was stuff sent from other areas that was not needed, for vehicle wrecks or individual things,” he said. “I don’t know, but it worries me that if you go totally by the number of calls, are we going to start sending stuff that’s not needed just to get more money?”

Emergency Management Services Director Shawn Dunbrack concurred with Walker that the Fire Association is in a better position to make decisions regarding distribution of the money.

“My personal opinion is that the Fire Association is the best group to make that decision on how it should be divided,” he said. “That’s actually the fire departments. They know what their expenses are. It’s my personal opinion that it would be better if they had that money and let them make that decision, rather than the commissioners trying to get involved and micro-managing the volunteer fire departments, that you really have no control over anyway.”

The Commission agreed with Dunbrack and allocated the $100,000 to the Fire Association for distribution to individual fire departments. The Commission made the contribution in addition to a $50,000 allocation to the Fire Association from hotel/motel tax receipts.

Cynthia Gurreri, representing the Pocahontas County Art Council, spoke to the Commission to protest a recent funding reduction. During its meeting on January 20, the Commission reduced the Council’s percentage of hotel/motel tax remainder from six percent to four percent – a cut of more than $10,000 at 2014 funding levels.

Gurreri explained that the Arts Council, as opposed to other art groups, is involved mainly in art education and promoting tourism.

“It’s not as much about retail sales as it is with getting visitors to come to our festivals, our co-ops, our shops and to see our trains,” she said. “I listen to the radio every day. I hear “Fourth Avenue” and they’re doing a great job, but they’re retail and they’re selling for themselves. Everything the Art Council does we do for all the arts in the county. Individuals, co-ops, anybody who has an art, we can display it. That’s what our job is – to help all the other organizations have other ways of displaying their art.”

Gurreri described ongoing programs in county schools.

“I feel like, if you cut my budget like this, that you’re not giving me the money I need to continue building on what we already have,” she added.

Walker expressed his desire to see more cooperation between the county’s art groups.

“I feel that, if the art groups, your co-ops, councils, individual groups, if you’d all get together and work together, and quit trying to spite each other, you’d have half the rent, you’d have twice the space and you’d have twice the productivity,” he said.

Gurreri responded that the Art Council supports all art groups in the county.

“What we do is for the whole county, not one individual or one organization,” she said. “We are doing it for everybody.”

The Commission was reluctant to change the annual hotel/motel tax allocation that it had agreed upon at its last meeting.

“I think re-adjusting the percentages is not something that we’re going to want to do today,” said McLaughlin. “That’s probably not an option.”

The Commission declined changing the Art Council percentage for the year. Commissioner William Beard said additional funding might be available from contribution funds, and invited the Art Council to submit a request for those funds at a future meeting.

In other business, the Commission:

– Approved a payment of $5,000 to purchase the County Commission website from former commissioner David Fleming, along with an annual maintenance, training and support payment of $200 for the coming year;
– Approved a partnership with the Water Resources Task Force, Health Department and Greenbrier Valley Conservation District for a program to pay for repair or replacement of septic systems in the Knapps Creek watershed (See next week’s edition for details of the program);
– Approved a $500 contribution to the Mountain Music Trail project, which seeks to increase music tourism in a five-county area;
– Approved a $5,000 contribution to Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity;
– Agreed to seek bids on the replacement of a garage door in the Hanover Building.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for February 17 at 5:30 p.m.

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