Commission reorganizes for the new year

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

The first item on the Pocahontas County Commission agenda Tuesday was the reorganization of the board for 2017.

It didn’t take long for Commissioner Bill Beard to be unanimously re-elected as commission president, to serve for the duration of 2017.

Commissioners were then appointed and/or reappointed to the boards of various county agencies and organization.

The appointments and/or reappointments were as follows:

Beard will serve as Pocahontas County Purchasing Agent, as well as on the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, Greenbrier County Economic Development Corporation, Region 4 Planning and Development Authority and Pocahontas County Senior Citizens Executive Board.

Commissioner David McLaughlin will serve on the Pocahontas County Emergency Medical Services, Pocahontas County 911 Advisory Board, Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Region 1 Local Elected Officials Board of WIA and Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force.

Commissioner Jesse Groseclose accepted his appointment to all of the boards on which his predecessor, Jamie Walker, had served. Those are: Pocahontas County Board of Health, Pocahontas County Extension Service/4-H, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alternate to Region 1 Local Elected Officials Board of WIA, Pocahontas County Farmland Protection Board, Member-at-Large: Pocahontas County Community Criminal Justice Board and North Central Community Corrections Board.

Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Cara Rose appeared before the commission with regard to several matters.

Rose, first, welcomed Groseclose to the CVB board, and pointed out how important tourism is to the county and reminded everyone that the skiers who come through the county in the winter season account for a hefty portion of the revenue which funds county agencies and organizations, “…so we should always welcome them with open arms.”

Rose said 85 percent of the revenue the CVB receives from the Hotel/Motel tax comes from revenue collected during the winter months.

She also mentioned that the CVB board had attended a retreat in November 2016 to identify opportunities for and develop plans to increase tourism to the county. One such idea is to encourage “agri-business tourism” – a topic about which she will be bringing more specifics to the commission in coming months.

Rose said the CVB is excited that the famous “Travelocity Gnome” will be making a few stops in several locations in Pocahontas County next week.

Rose also asked that a Pocahontas County Bicentennial Commission be formed to prepare and plan for the upcoming celebration of the county’s 200th anniversary.

Pocahontas County will officially be 200 years old in December 2021.

“We are seeking support from the county commission in the formation of a bicentennial commission, whose job will be to plan and execute a year or a year and a half of celebrations and events surrounding the centennial. We also ask that the county commission act as a fiscal agent for the centennial commission,” Rose said.

“I am looking for a ten-to-twelve person commission to develop historical themes, specific activities and educational components for the centennial for the enjoyment of our citizens and visitors alike.”

Rose said, as of now, she has several volunteers to serve on a centennial commission, including members of the Historical Society, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dramas, Fairs and Festivals, Gibbs Kinderman and Bob Sheets. And there will be a spot on the commission for a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a few others.

The commissioners expressed their support in general for such a commission to be formed and asked Rose to return with more details.

B.J. Sharp-Gudmundsson was next on the agenda with a 2016 report from the board of Preserving Pocahontas.

Gudmundsson said that the allotment of funds to Preserving Pocahontas from the county Hotel/Motel tax has enabled the organization to augment the preservation of our historic records here in the county. She added that public awareness and the acquisition of photos and research increased in 2016.

She also reported that the three year West Virginia Humanities Council Grant project for the Pearl S. Buck archives was completed in 2016. This Preserving Pocahontas project allowed for the digitization of the Pearl S. Buck collection which was activated and made available to the public on the Preserving Pocahontas online archive prior to the Living Gateway Conference held at West Virginia University in September 2016.

Gudmundsson also reported that Preserving Pocahontas has partnered with the West Virginia Railroad Museum in Elkins and the Pocahontas County Historical Society to provide photographs for an exhibit, which will provide more exposure for our county’s historical resources.

Besides adding new collections to the digitized data available on the Preserving Pocahontas online archive, another goal for 2017 for the organization is to develop a plan to digitize the vast historical archives of the NRAO to insure that their historical records will also be made accessible to the public.

Gudmundsson related that the Preserving Pocahontas website, “PreservingPocahontas.org” or “pocahontaspreservation.org” was started in 2012 to provide free public access to digitized historical photographs and documents related to the history of Pocahontas County. It is receiving a lot of “hits,” with more than half a million new, first time visitors to the website in 2016.

After sharing many newly acquired photographs and documents with the commissioners, and some discussion about details of other on-going projects and the great value of the work the organization does, Gudmundsson concluded her presentation by making an official request that Preserving Pocahontas be included in the Hotel/ Motel tax allotment for 2017.

911 Emergency Management Director Michael O’Brien presented information on renewal of the county’s contract with the Nixle Communications System.

“I did the additional research that you had asked for,” O’Brien told the commissioners, “ and I found out that competing communications systems charge in the neighborhood of $2,500 for initial set-up and $3,500 per year for implementation.
“Our current Nixle contract, which expires on February 1, 2017, is for $2,573, which breaks down to $.30 per resident and $.55 per landline.

“The contract that Nixle had originally sent for 2017 was asking for $5,151. As per your suggestion, I called them and insisted upon a review of that amount and Nixle agreed to allow the price to remain at last year’s price- $2,573 – and they will guarantee that price for three years.

“I believe that this is a cost-effective way to provide emergency communications to the county, and I would ask that we renew the Nixle contract under these terms,” O’Brien concluded.

Beard agreed that the Nixle system is valuable to the residents of the county and the commission approved McLaughlin’s motion to renew the contract.

In other business:

• Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton inquired about an estimate for a sprinkler system in the old shoe factory building. Administrative secretary Sue Helton reported that an estimate was expected to be received this week.

• Commissioners approved Emergency Management Director Michael O’Brien’s recommendation to reappoint Donald McNeel to a three-year term on the 911 Advisory Board.

• Approved a letter to be sent to Pendleton Community Bank regarding the line of credit the bank extends to the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The letter is an annual requirement.

• Approved a petition from the Town of Marlinton to decrease its corporate limits by a minor boundary change, as presented by Town Attorney Laura Finch. The property in question is located on Beard Heights.

The commission meets again Tuesday, January 17, at 5 p.m. at the courthouse.

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