Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

David Litsey, of Snowshoe, signed in to the public input/hear callers portion of the July 5 Pocahontas County Commission meeting. He brought with him a lengthy statement, addressing several of his concerns, including:

• the Snowshoe Resort Area District and its potential to threaten the county’s tax base

• the Farmland Protection Program and its erosion of the property tax base

The Farmland Protection Program states that it has approximately 2,000 acres in the program but only 1,095 acres are recorded at the courthouse as being in the program. Litsey summed up by saying, “Our tax base is vital to the well being of the county and to our school system.” 

As to the number of acres held by the Farmland Protection Board, Commissioner Jesse Groseclose explained that the 2,000 acres includes holdings in the West Virginia Land Trust.

Commission Counsel Bob Martin presented some unsettling news about a threat to county library funding. 

He referenced an article regarding an issue in Mercer County involving a legal challenge to giving hotel/ motel tax revenue to their libraries. 

Mercer County has subsequently pulled hotel/motel tax funding from their libraries. 

Martin read the pertinent state statute.

“WV Code 7- 18- 14 – Proceeds of Tax statute states that distribution to any entity other than for purposes of promoting recreation and tourism (i.e. to the Convention and Visitors Bureau) is not allowed. 

In Pocahontas County, former commissioners had previously come to the conclusion that the libraries could be considered to be “recreational” entities. Martin disagrees and stated that he felt that distribution to the libraries constitutes a violation of the statute.

“I don’t feel good about this,” Martin said. “I know it will hurt our libraries. But I don’t think we can continue giving any hotel/motel tax revenue to the libraries. The law does not permit it under the auspices of libraries being “recreational” entities. 

“As July began our new fiscal year, we should stop the monthly distribution to the libraries right away.”

Commissioners and those in attendance all expressed their concern for the consequences to the libraries as this revenue has been a significant portion of the libraries’ budget. 

The commission agreed to immediately notify Pocahontas County Libraries of their proposed action and to put the issue on the July 18 meeting agenda.

They then addressed the July 5 agenda beginning with the establishment of the Pocahontas County Fire Board.  

Martin reported that on June 15, the current Pocahontas County Fire Association voted to create a statutorily correct Fire Board. 

It has five appointees, selected from the county fire departments as possible nominees to serve on the Fire Board.

Commissioners were asked to select three of the five submitted names. 

The Fire Association asked the commission to give the nominee with the most votes the longest term of three years. They asked that the nominee with the second highest number of votes be given the two- year term and the nominee with the least number of votes be given the one-year term. 

Commissioner David McLaughlin made a motion that the commission accept the Fire Association request and the motion passed unanimously. 

The commission appointed the following members to the newly created Fire Board:

– Jamie Kellison for a three-year term

– Steve Tritapoe for a two-year term

– Randy Wilfong for a one-year term

McLaughlin was appointed to serve as commission representative on the Fire Board for a one-year term.

The commission then acted on the Fire Association’s request for the commission to assist in selecting three citizen members to serve on the Fire Association board. 

Commission president Bill Beard stated that it will be important that the Fire Board represents the entire county.

The association also requested that the selection committee include the six firefighters currently serving on the Fire Association board. 

Those members are: Buster Varner, Arthur Sharp, Steve Tritapoe, David Irvine, Jamie Kellison and Randy Wilfong.

Each was selected by a vote of their fire departments for this unpaid position.

Beard asked Martin to explain, once again, the reason for the necessity of creating a Fire Board. 

The reasons outlined were as follows:

1. to insure increased responsibility and accountability to the commission for county funds

2. to take into account the bills pending in the state legislature leaning toward giving more funding and power to fire boards 

3. acknowledging pending state legislation that will give more power to fire boards to regulate fees

“Our position is that this is a good idea for better accountability for county audits,” Beard said. “We hope that the formation of a Fire Board will lead to utilizing county funds more efficiently. Fire departments will be better able to borrow money for necessary equipment upgrades.”

Several firefighters were present at the meeting and participated in a discussion of the responsibilities, regulations, continuing education requirements and expenses associated with being a firefighter.

“I feel like all our firefighters are underpaid,” McLaughlin said.

Kellison, a Marlinton firefighter, informed the commission, and those present that the cost of outfitting a firefighter is very expensive.
 
“It costs at least $10,000 in clothing, gear and equipment to completely outfit one firefighter,” he said.

McLaughlin made the motion that a Pocahontas County Fire Board be established, consisting of six members, three to be citizen members, and that the board should also include one county commissioner. The motion passed unanimously.

The commission will put a notice in The Pocahontas Times soliciting interested citizen members for the Fire Board.

The commission then turned its attention to the administration of the Day Report program.

“We have met with the judges and been told time and time again about their requirements for the offenders in this program,” Beard said. “We’ll have to step up our efforts to do more drug tests and educational hours.”

“We need to increase attendance at classes by getting more diversity in our educational programs,” Martin added. “Most of our classes are monthly. Most people are in day report for a year or so. 

“We only offer six educational classes, so we run out of classes for each participant after six months. 

“We must also be sure that participants are receiving the necessary counseling – this is a contract between Mind Ease and the county commission.

“The judges have stressed that we should be drug testing a minimum of one test per week per participant. We are not meeting that standard.”
Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton, president of the County Corrections Board, suggested that the board needs something in writing from the judges as to what they need.

“We’ve just got to do more drug tests and more classes or we’re going to lose this program,” Beard said. “It’s going to be taken out of the county. The commission has been working to keep the program here in the county.

“Perhaps we can get a written directive regarding the judges requirements.”

It was agreed that the commission would work with the corrections board to improve the program going forward. 

Stella Callison with the Farm Protection Board came before the commission seeking retroactive approval of conservation easements for three properties – Nottingham, Rose and Hanley. 

The three properties were processed by the Pocahontas County Farmland Protection Board, paid and processed by the USDA in 2016. 

Commission approval had inadvertently been overlooked for these properties until this meeting. 

After a brief discussion, McLaughlin made the motion that the commission approve them and the vote was unanimous to do so.

The commission then considered the need for a Pocahontas County Water Task Force Coordinator and designating office space for the coordinator in the former shoe factory building.

The Water Task Force recommended Shenda Smith as a candidate for the position.

After determining the suitability of office space at the former shoe factory, a motion was made to approve the hiring of Smith.

Groseclose moved to direct Martin to draft a contract between the Water Resources Task Force and Smith for the independent contractor position. The term of the contract will be from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

The report from commission counsel was next on the agenda. 

Martin stated that the polling place for Precinct 2 in Bartow in the Northern District has been changed from East Fork to the Frank Church of the Nazarene. Public notification of the change will be published in The Pocahontas Times for two weeks.

The RAD election is over and the results are being tabulated and will be reported as soon as possible.

The commission then withdrew into executive session to discuss a personnel and liability issue. 

The next meeting of the county commission will be Tuesday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m.

The public is encouraged to attend.