Commission sets things in motion

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

Durbin residents Arthur and Karen Collins appeared before the Pocahontas County Commission at its May 16 meeting with questions about the proposed wastewater extension project for Durbin and Bartow. 

At the scheduled agenda time, the commission addressed the issue of the Small Cities Block Grant Application for the wastewater extension project in the northern end of the county.

This was the second public hearing/meeting regarding the Small Cities Block Grant Application for the Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) for the wastewater extension service to Frank and Bartow. 

The purpose of bringing the application documents before the commission is to ascertain their “completeness” and readiness to be submitted to the West Virginia Small Cities Block Grant commission for review.

Amanda Smarr, representing the Region 4 Planning and Development Council, was on hand to answer questions about project.

Mr. and Mrs. Collins questioned the necessity of the project.  They complained that increases in utility rates represent a hardship on local citizens, particularly the elderly. 

“Rate increases are never pleasant and we hope to be able to keep these rates as reasonable as possible,” Smarr said. “But here we have an opportunity to do just that with this grant application. The hope is that by securing a grant to help pay for a significant amount of the cost of the project, we will be keeping rates as low as we can.”  

PSD board member Dave Dragan was also present at the meeting. 

“I know there have been notices about all the PSD meetings, and we held a meeting in Durbin, with no complaints from local residents,” Dragon said. “To date, there has been no negative response to the project.

“No one has shown up to express any disagreement with this project to any of our meetings, which are open to the public.”

“The PSD holds its meetings the last Tuesday of the month, at 3 p.m. at the Slaty Fork Holder Building,” Dragan said.

To further explain the situation, commission counsel Bob Martin explained “the business before the commission at today’s meeting is to ascertain whether the application for the grant is in order, not to ascertain whether the project itself should be undertaken.”  

Commissioners urged members of the public who are interested in or opposed to the wastewater extension project to attend the PSD meetings and make their opinions known.

Speaking to Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Dragan said, “I understand you have valid concerns, but this project has been conceived to address a very serious situation. 

“There are numerous places where sewage is being discharged directly into the Greenbrier River. This cannot continue or Pocahontas County will face a million dollar fine from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which was delayed by the fact that we assured the DEP that we would take care of this problem.”

Mr. and Mrs. Collins were encouraged to attend the next meeting, which will be on May 27th, and to ask their questions and express their concerns about the project.

Commissioner David McLaughlan made the motion to approve the grant application. The motion passed by a unanimous vote.

RAD is complete

The commission took up the next item on the agenda, the issue of the Snowshoe Resort Area District (RAD) “completeness of petition.” 

Commission president Bill Beard asked Martin to explain the situation to the commission and to those present at the meeting.

“As I understand it, we are not voting on whether or not we agree with the RAD,” Beard said, “just whether or not all of the necessary items are included in the petition.”

Martin said the commission was being asked to review the petition and the parameters of its submission, “so that any possible problems down the road could be avoided.”

Snowshoe COO Frank DeBerry was present to answer questions. He agreed that the care and thoroughness with which the petition and the eventual vote is handled is crucial to its success. 

Martin stated that he believed that the petition had met all of the parameters of completeness. 

McLaughlin said he had read it and found it to be complete. Beard and commissioner Jesse Groseclose said they had also read it and agreed that it appeared to have met all instructions as to completeness.

McLaughlin made the motion that the petition was “complete” and the vote was unanimous in favor of the motion. 

The ballots will be mailed out forthwith and must be returned to the Pocahontas County Courthouse by June 30. Martin will retain possession of the ballots. 

Property owners may send their ballot by mail or may make their vote in person at the public hearing.

Ira Maupin, a West Ridge property owner, expressed the opinion that many Snowshoe area property owners are not full-time residents and might prefer a Saturday date for the ballot count and public hearing. But commissioners felt that by setting the meeting for the evening before Treasure on the Mountain, they would be accommodating the many Snowshoe owners who come in for that weekend. 

The commission set the public hearing and ballot count for Friday, August 4, at 5 p.m. at the courthouse.

The discussion then moved to the next step in the process – the commission issuing an order that proper notice must be given to all owners of real estate within the boundaries of the proposed RAD. 

Commissioners agreed that copies of the order, the notice and the ballot must be posted in multiple, conspicuous places throughout the proposed area of the RAD and a Class II legal notice and notice of the hearing must be placed in the local newspaper. 

Commissioners also stated that a copy of the petition will be available in the county clerk’s office.

Groseclose made the motion that the process be so ordered and it was passed unanimously.

If the RAD is approved by the affected property owners and voted in by RAD area property owners, the issue will then come back before the county commission and be open for public input before final approval by the county commission.

Resolution on tax reform nixed

A communique was received from Charleston informing the county that a joint resolution on tax reform had been passed by the state legislature to encourage all county commissions to put studies on their agendas regarding repealing county personal property taxes and increasing property taxes. Their letter had included a formula which indicated a tax advantage in repealing personal property taxes and increasing property tax rates to include personal property.

However, according to County Clerk Melissa Bennett, who was present at the meeting, the formula which the state had used to promote these changes is incorrect. Bennett had run projections on the proposed change using their formula and it would not increase revenue in Pocahontas County and, in fact, the change could cause a loss of revenue.

Commissioners agreed that Bennett should reply that Pocahontas County is not interested in pursuing the proposed repeal of personal property taxes in favor of increases in property tax rates.

In other matters, the commission

• Received the April report from Day Report Center director Glenn Galloway. Day Report participants completed 156 hours of community service in East Cass, at Cass Park, Marlinton Mini Park, Greenbrier River Trail, the Day Report Center and Widney Park.

• Had the second reading of the Pocahontas County Dog ordinance. Third Reading will be at the June 21 commission meeting.

• Received resignations of Tiffany Wayne as 911 dispatcher, and Deputy Trent Herron from the Sheriff’s Office.

• Distributed additional funds in the amount of $3,138 – Pocahontas County Humane Society $1,000 and Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce $2,138.

The next regularly scheduled county commission meeting will be held at 8:30 a.m. on May 30.

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