Commission opposes proposal to scrap phone books

The Pocahontas County Commission in session October 15. Seated at the table, left to right, Commissioners Jamie Walker, David Fleming and William Beard, and Assistant Sue Helton. Among other issues, the commission voted to oppose the local phone company’s proposal to stop providing phone books. See the full story for details. G. Hamill photo

The phone book could be a thing of the past if the local telephone company has its way. Frontier Communications petitioned the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) for permission to stop providing printed directories to its customers or, in the alternative, provide phone books only to customers who request them.

The Pocahontas County Commission considered the issue during its meeting on October 15.

State regulations require telephone companies to provide printed directories every year. Frontier argues that printed phone books are “antiquated” because of the availability of directories on the Internet. The company also contends that many phone books are routinely thrown away. As a result of Frontier’s request, the PSC opened an investigation into a possible rule change that would eliminate the requirement for all telephone companies doing business in the state.

The County Commissioners quickly concurred that Pocahontas County residents need a printed phone book. The Commission agreed to send a letter to the PSC, stating its opposition to the phone company’s proposal. Commission President David Fleming offered to draft the letter.

“I can draft that letter, if you’d like,” Fleming said. “What I would say, basically, is that the County Commission is adamantly opposed to Frontier’s petition to request ceasing of the printing of the phone book. I’ll say language, to the effect, Pocahontas Countians rely on the phone books. As a rural county, a significant percentage of our population doesn’t even have a computer. Moreover, we have relatively unreliable Internet service. Therefore we request that Frontier’s petition be denied.”

The Commission unanimously authorized Fleming to write and send the letter.

The PSC invites the public to provide comments on Frontier’s proposal. Comments can be mailed to: West Virginia PSC, Executive Secretary of the Commission, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323. Initial comments are due by November 15, 2013, and reply comments are due by December 16, 2013.

In other telephone-related matters, Commission Assistant Sue Helton informed the Commission that Frontier had billed the county for private lines and equipment that had not been ordered. The issue arose following a recent upgrade to the Courthouse telephone system.

“The bill keeps growing and growing,” said Helton. “It’s $672 a month. We’re getting billed separately for all these direct lines, in addition to each office having their own phone bill that they’re turning in. This bill now, after the last time that I received one, is a little over $8,000. We do not owe these. We did not contract to do this.”

Helton said she also received a bill for equipment, apparently ordered by telephone installers.

“I keep receiving this bill for $530.11,” she said. “I’ve called and called and called. It’s the same situation for months. I try to call and work these bills out. I keep getting a response that they will have Mr. Anthony Rome return my call about this $530. The last time, I was able to get some information out of a lady. She said that somebody in this courthouse ordered seven new phones for $49.54 each, which came to over $500. She wanted to know who had done it. No one did. As far as I can find out, those phone orders were placed when they put our new phone system in and it was actually done by the people who were here putting the phones in.”

Helton contacted Frontier Regional Manager Reta Griffith, who was unable to help.

“She said she didn’t know if she would be able to help me because she wasn’t in charge of invoices,” said Helton.

Helton requested that the Commission dispute the Frontier invoices in writing. The Commission unanimously approved a letter to Frontier disputing the charges.

The Commission rejected the sole on-time bid for installation of propane furnaces in the ARC Building in Marlinton, because it was non-conforming. One late bid had been submitted by Summersville construction company Alpha Construction, Inc. Jeremy Collins, representing Alpha, apologized for the late bid and recommended electric heat pumps for the building.

Collins gave his expert opinion that electric heat pumps would be the most efficient way to heat the building, especially with three-phase power present on-site. The representative said an additional benefit of heat pumps is air conditioning in warmer months. The Commission followed Collins’ recommendation and approved soliciting bids for installation of three, five-ton electric heat pumps. Bids will be due no later than November 4 at 4:30 p.m.

During a public comment period, Buckeye resident Mark Mengele said there was no “magic number” the Commission should establish as a goal for the county’s population. Late Commissioner Dolan Irvine established a goal of 10,000 people living in the county. The county population, according to the 2010 Census, is 8,710.

Mengele said he had examined data from other counties, which showed that higher population does not necessarily correlate with a better economy or higher standard of living.

During board updates, Commissioner Bill Beard commended the work by local emergency medical services teams.

“Most all of them are volunteers,” he said. “You’ve got to take your hat off and say that they do a good job for the community. I don’t know what the community would do without the EMTs that work those ambulances, and the people that are in charge of those different districts. We’re pretty lucky to have that scattered through the county, like we do.”

In other business, the Commission accepted a sole bid from Woodford Oil to provide heating oil for Courthouse offices at Roanoke Marathon rack price plus ten cents.

The next regular Pocahontas County Commission meeting is scheduled for November 5 at 8:30 a.m.


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