Council votes down planning commission nominees

Marlinton Town Council in session on January 8, 2014.
Marlinton Town Council in session on January 8, 2014.

The West Virginia Legislature encourages municipalities to appoint a planning commission “to serve in an advisory capacity to the governing body and promote the orderly development of the community.” The goal of a planning commission is to prepare a comprehensive plan. Based upon a comprehensive plan, town councils may enact a land development ordinance; require plans and plats for land development; issue improvement location permits for construction and enact a zoning ordinance.

For the past two weeks, the Town of Marlinton ran ads in The Pocahontas Times, seeking volunteers for a town planning commission. No one answered the ads, so Mayor Joe Smith made his own nominations during the town council meeting Wednesday night. The mayor nominated himself and four others to serve on the commission.

“Based on not getting any response to the ad, that was in the paper for two weeks, I re-submit my recommendations, which were Roger Trusler, as a citizen-at-large; B.J. Gudmundsson, as a historian; and Dennis Driscoll, as an engineer/architect, plus [councilmember] Dave Zorn and myself, representing the town government,” Smith said.

By a 4-3 margin, council disapproved the mayor’s proposed nominees. Recorder Robin Mutscheller, along with councilmembers Louis Barnisky, Sue Helton and Loretta Malcomb, voted against the nominees. The mayor and councilmembers Norris Long and David Zorn voted for the nominees.

None of the majority expressed an opinion on any individual nominee but the group of nominees, as a whole, was rejected. Smith said he would continue to search for nominees for the planning commission and put the item on the next meeting agenda.

The mayor told The Pocahontas Times on Thursday that the Legislature is encouraging municipalities to complete a comprehensive plan by 2015, and that certain funding from the state will not be available to the town if it does not have a plan. Smith said the planning commission will be given the mission to establish long-term goals and develop strategies, but not work toward a zoning ordinance.

During the mayor’s report, Smith said recent sub-zero temperatures had caused a major water leak, draining the tank on Greenbrier Hill, and that town crews were attempting to locate the leak with listening devices.

On Thursday morning, a major leak was discovered at the Edray Industrial Park building, where water pipes burst due to the cold weather and power outage. The leak drained the Edray water tank, which had caused the low level in the Greenbrier Hill tank. Smith said there might be other major leaks. The town issued a boil water advisory on Thursday due to low water levels. Town workers, with assistance from the Rural Water Association and contractor C.I. Thornburg, continued to search for and repair leaks.

Smith told council he spoke with a West Virginia State Police supervisor about enforcement of town animal ordinances. The supervisor told Smith that officers can issue citations for town violations, but can not pick up stray or problem dogs, because cruisers are unequipped to handle animals, and the animal shelter is closed at night, when troopers are on patrol for the town.

Smith said more than 100 people utilized the warming shelter at the Municipal Building during the power outage on Tuesday. The town provided sandwiches, coffee and hot chocolate to residents who waited for power and heat to be restored.

“I bet we made 30 big pots of coffee yesterday,” said Barnisky.

The mayor said Kristy Lanier, owner of the Dirt Bean Cafe, that was destroyed in the November 10 fire, requested that council forgive her business’ water bill for September and October, due to her loss of income.

Helton was in favor of the request.

“I feel that we should approve Kristy’s request,” she said. “She lost her business and she has no money coming in to pay her bill.”

Mutscheller questioned whether Public Service Commission rules allow hardship utility bill forgiveness. The recorder expressed concern that granting the request would set an unwanted precedent.

“If you say that a person has a hardship, you know, there are lots of hardships out there,” she said.

Helton moved to forgive the bill, but the motion died for lack of a second. Council agreed unanimously not to impose a late payment penalty. Smith noted that Lanier would not receive a bill for the first 10 days in November. Following the meeting, Mutscheller expressed confidence that she could procure money to pay Lanier’s water bill.

During public comments, Mark Strauss asked about removal of the ruined Hudson building, the sole remaining fire-destroyed building to be demolished and removed from Main Street.

The mayor said Mike Hudson had the lot for sale and was negotiating with two prospective buyers. Smith said he would give Hudson time to arrange a sale before taking action to clear the lot.

“I will give him a fair amount of time,” Smith said. “I don’t have a time frame in my mind, but it’s not going to set there very much longer before some action’s going to be taken on it. It concerns me that a kid or someone might go in there and really get hurt. There’s a lot of miscellaneous tin and glass and everything in there.”

Council considered whether to continue planning for an urban deer hunt to reduce the town’s deer population. The archery-only hunt would be held two weeks prior to the start of buck gun season in the fall. Hunting would be allowed on town property and on private property with the owner’s permission.

Some councilmembers expressed safety concerns.

“I’m expressing my concern for safety, where I do not think we should move forward with it,” said Mutscheller.

“I don’t have a problem with killing the deer,” said Helton. “There’s probably 30 in my yard right now. But I do have concerns about safety.”

Council voted 4-3 to continue planning for an urban deer hunt, with Mutscheller, Barnisky and Helton in opposition. Smith said public meetings would be part of the continued planning process. The first urban hunt committee public meeting is scheduled for January 22 at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Building.

Barnisky said she had received complaints about the town’s Christmas decorations.

“They told me they’d like to know how much it costs for six men for two days to put the lights across the street, when it was all uncalled for,” she said. “They said ‘we don’t need a circus in this town.’ They said, ‘go to other towns, a lot bigger than us, and they have nice wreaths on the posts; they have things, but they do not have every tree, every bush covered, that looks like a carnival.’”

“Our citizens pay for this,” Barnisky added.

“I’ll speak up for the authorization of doing it,” said Long. ”I think it was extremely beautiful and if there’s other towns that are not doing it, then shame on them.”

Smith said he would take the complaints under consideration.

Helton stated her disapproval of “Merry Christmas” ads from council that ran in The Pocahontas Times, at a cost of $236.

“I don’t believe that Christmas ads in the newspaper are a proper use of taxpayer money,” she said. “I don’t like it. I’m willing to pay my share, since my name is in there.”

“I’ll pay my part,” added Barnisky.

Smith said he would not run the Christmas ads in the future.

In other business, council approved a resolution in support of continued construction of Corridor H and agreed to pay Mutscheler’s travel expenses for an election conference in Charleston.

The next regular Marlinton Town Council meeting is scheduled for February 3 at 7 p.m.


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