At its December 7 meeting, Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose advised the Pocahontas County Commission that, as of January, third party travel booking companies, such as AirBNB, will be collecting the Hotel/Motel Tax from guests and forwarding the money to the Sheriff. This will relieve the local hosts from that responsibility.
Andrew Robinson from Senator Joe Manchin’s office appeared via Zoom to explain the guidelines the commission must follow to dis- tribute the $1.6 million of American Rescue Plan mon-ey the state provided to the county. He said it could be used:
• to replace lost public sector money due to COVID
• to support public health’s response to COVID.
• as premium pay for essential workers needed because of COVID
• for water and sewer projects
• Broadband expansion.
He also referred commissioners to the State Auditor for additional information. The State Auditor’s Website (Covid-19 – wvsao.gov) adds a clarification to the public health criteria. That criteria reads:
“To respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or to aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel or hospitality.”
Laura Young of the Family Resource Network asked Robinson if the FRN would be eligible to receive ARP funding reimbursement of its lost revenue due to COVID. Robinson said not under the “replacing lost public sector money” provision, but may-be under the public health provision.
Robinson added that the commission has to be careful to ensure any money they distribute follows these guidelines or penalties could be assessed.
He also confirmed that the commission has until December 31, 2024 to allocate the ARP funds, and until December 31, 2026 to account for the completed projects where the money was used.
Robinson said the Governor still has $100,000 in unspent CARES Act money and has an additional $1.25 billion in American Rescue Plan money that might be allocated to the counties or municipalities.
Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton asked Robinson to clarify if the Town of Marlinton actually has $424,000 in ARP money instead of $400,000, a number the council has been working with. Robinson confirmed the town received $424,000.
The commissioners voted to renew the West Virginia Division of Forestry’s lease at the ARC Building, but at an increased monthly rate of $500 instead of the current $250 per month. He said the Division of Forestry has indicated that this is acceptable to them.
Jim Jackson, the new Director of the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), introduced himself to the commission. He said he was originally from Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State, then from MIT with a graduate degree. He has worked at an observatory in California and lived in Australia and is excited to now be here. Jackson said there is a lot of new science being done at the GBO, including determining gravity wave mass by using pulsars. He said the GBO has received increased funding from the National Science Foundation and hopes to solidify its own contract funding.
Jackson said he hopes to work closer with the community, and is open to compromising on the Quiet Zone restrictions if it helps the community, and has already reached an agreement with the 911 Center regarding improved emergency radio communications.
In other business, the commission approved the following contributions:
• $5,000 to the Pocahontas County Opera House for installation of an Ultra Violet (UV) light system in the building’s duct work to kill germs and viruses, and to help pay for the installation of an insulated door.
• $4,500 to the Pocahontas County Child and Youth Advocacy Center to support children from families in crisis.
• $5,000 to the Humane Society of Pocahontas Coun-ty to use as a local match for its $15,000 state Spay and Neuter Program.
• $5,000 to the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau for the Make it Shine Grant application to clean litter from the county roadways.