Commission has light agenda

Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

At the conclusion of its meeting Tuesday, the Pocahontas County Commission held a conference call with Lisa Sharp of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development in Morgantown, and Janna Lowery from USDA Community Programs about a possible USDA loan for the expansion of Pocahontas Memorial Hospital (PMH.)

PMH CEO Mary Beth Barr had approached the commission at several past meetings requesting approval for PMH to apply for a loan of up to $7.5 million to expand the hospital’s facilities to accommodate new out-patient services.

During Tuesday’s conference call, Commissioner Walt Helmick asked about the ramifications if PMH took out a $5 million loan and defaulted on it. Lowery said that once a government loan such as this is finalized, if it goes into default it cannot be renegotiated, it would simply be foreclosed on.

Lowery said currently a $5 million, 30-year loan would have a 2.75% interest rate. She explained that the loan pre-approval process would require PMH to demonstrate that it has had a good operating financial history for the past five years as well as having a favorable feasibility study completed by a CPA firm.

Once those conditions have been met, according to Lowery, PMH can complete a full loan application. As part of that process, the USDA will complete an environmental study and will review the architectural plans before giving its final approval.

Lowery also said that PMH will also have to show that it is unable to obtain a reasonable loan from a private lender in this area, since the government will not compete with private lenders.

Sharp added that there is an alternative to a government loan. She said the USDA also offers a loan guarantee program whereby the USDA will guarantee repayment of the loan to a private lender who loans PMH the funds it needs.

The USDA offered to send some representatives to a future commission meeting to further discuss these loan possibilities, and the commissioners offered to hold a special meeting at the convenience of the USDA to accomplish that.

Also at the meeting, the commission voted to retain commissioner David McLaughlin as its president, and for each of the commissioners to retain their current commission board assignments.

Cree Lahti provided an annual update on the Pocahontas County Libraries and Visitor Information Centers. She said the libraries had 45,000 visitors in 2019, of which 1,600 were tourists visiting the county. Lahti said the libraries’ public Internet access has had a successful year, with 8,700 people using the computers and another 3,500 using their own devices on the public WiFi.

Commission counsel, Bob Martin discussed a legal situation going on between the Silver Creek Association and Pocahontas County Assessor Tom Lane – who was also present at the meeting. Martin explained that in order to comply with a January 4, 2019 court order from Judge Jennifer P. Dent, Lane had re-assessed all 247 condominiums in the Silver Creek Commercial Hub. Martin said that Lane did these reassessments on January 17 and 18, 2019. However, 12 of those condo owners have, through the Association, filed a motion with the court alleging that Lane illegally reassessed their condos after the February 1, 2019, deadline. Martin said that claim is absolutely false as he has documented proof that these reassessments were completed in January 2019, before the February 1 deadline. Martin said he has filed a responding motion to “dismiss and strike their motion under Rule 12 as being slanderous.”

He also said that 12 of those re-assessed condo owners have also sent a letter asking the commission to “exonerate” their reclassifications from Class 3 commercial back to Class 2 residential. Martin, however, explained the law prohibits commissioners from doing this without the written approval of the Assessor, which, according to both Lane and Martin, “won’t happen.” The commission decided to take no action on this matter until after Judge Dent rules on the Association’s motion and on Martin’s responding motion at a court hearing scheduled for February 19.

In other business, the commission

• granted permission for the 911 Center to connect to the commission’s internet service as a back-up in the event their primary City Net Internet connection temporarily goes down.

• approved Pocahontas County Clerk Melissa Bennett’s request to change the Slaty Fork, Central District, polling place from the community center to the Linwood Library.

• appointed Gail Siers, Mike Vance, Jaynell Graham, Michael Riggsby, Preston Cline and Cindy Wilfong to the Local Emergency Planning Committee.

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