Commission has light, but productive agenda

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The Pocahontas County Commission heard from Dunmore resident Amy Scott during public input/hear callers at its meeting Tuesday morning.

Scott advised the commissioners that the Pocahontas County Commission is listed on the Dominion website as being in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. She asked if that was, in fact, true and if not, would the commission contact Dominion and ask that they remove mention of the county’s support.  

Scott also voiced several concerns about the potential environmental and economic impact of the ACP coming through Pocahontas County.

Commission president Bill Beard responded by saying that, although the commissioners had been in support of the “Northern route” which Dominion had originally proposed, they have not given Dominion their support for the current route, proposed to go through Clover Lick, Seneca State Forest, Michael Mountain and Dunmore.

The Commission thanked Scott for bringing the matter to their attention.

Although not on the agenda, the commission gave time to three other members of the public who spoke out against the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Pocahontas County.

They included Nikki Alikakos, a Pocahontas County native who recently returned to live in Cass.

“These big corporations do not have our best interests at heart,” Alikakos said, “so we have to stand up for ourselves. We are David and they are Goliath, but we have to take up our sling-shot.”

Allen Johnson, of Dunmore, brought maps, press releases from the Eight Rivers Council and Southern Environment.org delineating the lack of future demand for natural gas, how Dominion Power and Duke Energy are counting on FERC to rubber-stamp pipeline projects and how costs will be passed along to utility customers.

Finally, Mary Ann Toma-sik, a resident of Clover Lick, had questions for the commissioners about how much of the exact route and environmental impact the pipeline would engender in Clover Lick. 

“Will Dominion be using the existing little bridge over the Greenbrier River in Clover Lick?” she asked. “Will they be building a new bridge there? Or will they be using the Greenbrier River or the Greenbrier River Trail for moving heavy equipment across and beside the river in that area? 

“No bridge is indicated on their ACP constructions maps, so we would like to know what their plan is.”

After allowing time for comments and concerns, commissioners moved on to its stated agenda.

The five-member Pocahontas County Fire Association made its recommendation for the first three members of the newly organized Fire Board and the commission voted unanimously to accept their recommendation and made the appointments.

The Pocahontas County Fire Board, officially constituted as of October 3, 2017 will consist of: 

• Alan Wright, Northern District, serving for a term of two years

• Kendall Beverage, Central District, serving for a term of three years

• Janet Kershner Vanover, Southern District, serving for a term of one year

Emergency Services and Homeland Security Director Mike O’Brien asked the commission to approve his agency’s application for a Homeland Security Radio Upgrade Grant to improve county emergency communications. 

The $100,000 grant would enable the county to upgrade its existing microwave system, in place since 1993, and replace it with an updated microwave system and a new fiber line, the cost of which would be $146,000. 

O’Brien explained how, by owning its own transmission lines, rather than “renting” them from Frontier Communications, the county could recoup the cost of the $46,000 investment in 10 years.

The commissioners voted unanimously to allow O’Brien to pursue the Homeland Security grant.

The commission retired into executive session to discuss a personnel matter before returning to open session to conclude the last item on the agenda, which was a discussion of the collection of county hotel/motel tax fees from bed and breakfasts and short-term rental properties. 

Sheriff Barlow introduced Tabitha Mann, Chief Tax Deputy, who explained that she and the sheriff will meet with commission counsel Bob Martin and prosecuting attorney Gene Simmons to ascertain how best to put in place a more definitive hotel/motel tax assessment policy.

“We need to implement a simple set of rules as to who has to pay this tax, how the tax should be paid and what will be the interest and penalties applied for late payments,” Martin said.

Mann said that the assessor’s office hopes to bring a specific updated short-term rental tax policy before the commission for approval at its first meeting in November in order to include the policy in its mailing to taxpayers in December.

In his report to the commission, Martin advised that he met with Judge Jennifer Dent regarding the county’s Day Report system, and she is fully in support of maintaining the Day Report program by integrating it into the Greenbrier County System. 

In other business, the commission

• appointed James Scotchie to fill the unexpired term of Greg Taylor on the Pocahontas County Emergency Medical Services – term will expire June 30, 2019.

• accepted a bid of $23,500 from SecureTech LLC, a Marlinton-based company, for a security surveillance system for the courthouse and family court. Installation is expected to begin immediately.

• approved the recommendation of Emergency Services and 911 Director Mike O’Brien  to hire Joe Emmerth as Deputy Director at the 911 center, effective date, October 4.

• approved Assessor Tom Lane’s recommendation to hire Adam C. Wright as full-time Deputy Assessor to assist in data collection for real estate and personal property.  The position would be funded from the existing assessor’s budget. 

• approved appointments of Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee members: Jaynell Graham and Randy Wilfong – two-year terms, expiring September 30, 2019; Mike O’Brien, Sam Felton and Kenny Lehman – three-year terms, expiring September 30, 2020

• gave permission for Andrea O’Brien to hold a “Trunk or Treat” event on Halloween night between 5 and 7 p.m. in the parking lot of the ARC Building

The next meeting of the county commission will be held on Tuesday, October 17, at 5:30 p.m.

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