Commission takes positive action going into the new year

Laura Dean Bennett
Contributing Writer

Present at last Tuesdays Pocahontas County Commission meeting were commissioners David McLaughlin and Jesse Groseclose, commission president Bill Beard, general counsel Bob Martin and a roomful of concerned citizens.

On the agenda was the annual allotment of expected income from Hotel/Motel tax, so the meeting was “standing room only,” as the monies generated by tourism here in Pocahontas County is vital to so many agencies and organizations in the community.

The commission had other items on the agenda, as well.

Public input/hearing callers was the first item for the, with only one person coming forward to speak.

Sam Gibson, of Slaty Fork, stepped up to say he sincerely hopes that the next time Snowshoe Resort brought a Resort Area District (RAD) before the commission for approval that the commissioners would not approve it.

“This is public funding of a corporation that’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange,” he said.

Gibson also talked about the school levy effort that failed at the polls this past fall.

“I think the people of Pocahontas County have spoken – they don’t want a school levy. So I think the county may have to consider a one percent tax to fund the county’s public school system.”

Lauren Bennett, director of the County Parks and Recreation, also addressed the commissioners.

Bennett was there for a follow up discussion and a vote on her request from an earlier meeting asking that the commission authorize Parks and Rec to open a part-time, winter skateboard venue at the old shoe factory.

Martin stated that he and the county’s insurance carrier had reviewed the plans for the skate “park” submitted by Bennett and he believed that many of their concerns had been addressed, and that any other concerns would be addressed to eliminate any safety or liability issues.

Bennett assured commissioners that she would work with the insurance carrier to eliminate any potential problems before going forward.

McLaughlin stated that he is all for more activities for our kids, and Groseclose asked about operating hours of the skate board park.
Bennett said that she anticipates the skateboard area will be open a few hours at a time, a few days a week.

The commissioners voted to conditionally approve the temporary use of a specified area of the old shoe factory as a skateboard park this winter, contingent upon Parks and Rec being able to totally satisfy all of the county’s insurance carrier’s concerns.

Commissioners received an update from director Glen Galloway on the Day Report Center.

Galloway reported that there were 16 participants in December 2016, two of whom were new to the program and one participant who completed the program in December.

The number of drug screens increased in December to a total of 31, which is in line with recent requests from the drug court judges regarding the day report program.

The commissioners thank-ed Galloway for the good work that the day report program is doing.

Next on the agenda was the matter of a letter of support from the county for the Greenbrier River Trail Association’s grant application.

The GRTA hopes to receive $150,000 to repair the recent flood damage to the river trail – along the 78 mile stretch from Cass to Caldwell – and expects to chip in 20 percent in matching funds for the grant. The commission had been asked to draft and sign a letter of support to include with the application.

McLaughlin made a motion that such a letter be drafted for the commissioners’ signatures, and the motion passed unanimously, with Beard adding that “the river trail is a big asset to the county, so, of course, we want to support this effort.”

With so many representatives of various boards and other non-profit agencies present to advocate for their share of hotel/motel tax, the commission began hearing reports from each agency and organization before deciding how to distribute the tax.

Beard began by explaining to those gathered in the room that West Virginia state law requires that 50 percent of the Hotel/Motel tax must first be given to the County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Also according to state law and at the direction of the commission, the county then gives $75,000 to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, $50,000 to the Pocahontas County Fire departments and $50,000 to the Pocahontas County EMS.

The commission then traditionally allots $25,000 to the county’s “Bricks and Mortar Fund.”

The remainder of the money that the county expects to receive from the tax will be divided among the several organizations. Commissioners heard annual reports from representatives of these organizations.

Questions were asked and answered and all participants were thanked for their hard work and encouraged to continue their programs as economically as possible.

Most agencies were expecting the same percentage they received last year, a few asked that their percentage be raised after experiencing painful one percent cuts last year.

But economy and belt-tightening were the watchwords as the commissioners voted to keep percentages the same as were established last year.

Parks & Recreation – 33 percent; Pocahontas County Free Libraries – 32 percent; Dramas, Fairs and Festivals – 20 percent; Historic Landmarks Commission – five percent; Pocahontas County Arts Council – four percent; Pocahontas County Artisans Cooperative – three percent; and Preserving Pocahontas – three percent.

The commission passed a resolution in support of the good and necessary work that Pocahontas County’s fire departments and rescue squads do to support the citizens of the county. This resolution will hopefully assist these agencies in securing grants.

Martin presented a report to the commissioners on progress that he and Cara Rose made in formalizing a request that the commission be named as the fiscal agent for the Pocahontas Bicentennial Committee.

Martin then reported that, as of December 13, 2016, the “Buckskin Counsel- Boy Scouts of America” had sold 1,200 of the 1,800 acres of the Buckskin Scout Camp, located near Dunmore, to the Dominion Conservation Fund. This undeveloped tract is located on the west side of Route 28 while the remaining 600 acres is east of Route 28 and contains all camp buildings and infrastructure.

After a bit of discussion about their frustration with the lack of response to inquiries that the commission had made to the Buckskin Counsel, the commissioners asked Martin to invite Jeffrey  Purdy, president of the Buckskin Counsel, to attend a Commission meeting to answer questions about the future of the camp.

The meeting ended with commissioners addressing a personnel issue in executive session.

The commission meets again Tuesday, February 7 at 8:30 a.m.

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