Back during the December 19th Pocahontas County Com- mission Meeting, Herbie Barlow, presented a joint proposal from the Marlinton and Hillsboro Fire Departments to establish a paid seven-day a week ambulance and fire service for the Southern and Central portions of the county. Under this proposal, the two FDs would provide both an ambulance and a fire truck, as well as all of the medical equipment and supplies, a station and the use of the Marlinton FD’s license and DEA certificate at no cost to the county. He said they only ask the county to pay the salaries of a driver, an EMT or Paramedic, and a firefighter. Barlow estimated that would cost the county about $296,000 for a full year. At the time the commissioners, who appeared to be a bit surprised by this, yet also seemed somewhat interested in it, promised to think it over and let Barlow know their decision at the January 2 meeting.
As background, Commissioner John Rebinski recently created the Pocahontas County Ambulance Service in the northern end of the county, and it is operating with an ambulance initially provided by the Cass VFD, and is staffed by paid county employees selected by Rebinski and approved by the commission. Barlow and others, including Commissioner Jamie Walker, have expressed frustration that the existing county ambulance service was limited to the northern part of the county.
Last fall, the commission approved the purchase of a brand-new ambulance for use in the Central and southern portions of the county, however that ambulance will not be available for delivery for three years – 2026.
Barlow’s proposal was not brought up at the January 2 commission meeting, however it was discussed at the January 16 meeting. Barlow reiterated his proposal.
Walker said he liked the proposal, but wanted to wait to make a decision on it until after he received an opinion from County Prosecutor Terri Helmick – who also serves as the commission’s attorney – about the legality of using county paid employees to staff equipment owned by a volunteer fire department.
Rebinski said he does not want to let a volunteer fire department, which uses county employees, keep the money generated from insurance payments for ambulance responses by county paid employees. He also said he has questions about the legality of using county employees under this proposal, including employee insurance and benefits; liability to the county; and having county employees supervised by non-county employees.
Rebinski said he has been preparing to create a county-wide ambulance service by expanding his paid ambulance service to the central and southern areas. He said he is planning to purchase an ambulance and house it at the new 911/EMS building that will be built behind the hospital; and staff it with county employees.
Commission President Walt Helmick said he leans toward having Rebinski eventually just expand the existing county ambulance service, although he indicated the commission is still considering Barlow’s proposal.
Barlow seemed frustrated, and said he is offering all the equipment, vehicles and a station at no cost to the county except salaries while providing a vital service to the county that the commission is required to ensure is provided. He said he was led to believe in December that everything would be worked out, but now the commission seems like they don’t want to accept this proposal. He said he would talk to Terri Helmick about the issue Walker brought up concerning the use of county employees for this service, but believes that issue can be settled by a simple Memorandum of Understanding between the Marlinton and Hillsboro Fire Departments and the county.
In other matters before the commission:
Peggy Owens of the Pocahontas County Arts Council delivered the Council’s annual update. She described the group’s involvement with Durbin Days, Pioneer Days, the Art Fest and the Empty Bowls event. Owens said they arranged to have Miss West Virginia come to the county to read to young students, and they are applying for a grant to enable them to better help youths get involved in the arts. The Arts Council is also attempting to get Pocahontas County officially designated as an Arts County.
Parks and Recreation Director Lauren Bennett delivered the annual update, in which she said that, in 2023, Parks and Rec continued to enhance the lives of county citizens, despite the reductions to their budget. Bennett said they made various improvements, including new concrete baseball dugouts and toilets at Stillwell Park; repaired drainage issues and added a new restroom at Widney Park; upgraded equipment at the Wellness Center; purchased a new tractor to replace their 1990 era tractor; and worked with the Green Bank Observatory to allow the public to use its swimming pool. She said that Parks and Recreation’s facilities were widely used by citizens and youth groups in 2023.
The commission approved a request from Sheriff Jeff Barlow to hire Jacob Kinsley as a full-time secretary. Barlow explained Kinsley would be filling this formerly vacant position and will be paid out of the Sheriff’s Department budget.
Amanda Smarr, of Region 4, asked the commission to table the agenda item requesting approval of budget amendment #1 and draw Request #8 from the ARC Broadband Project Grant until a future meeting since they are still awaiting more guidance from the state about those items.
The commission approved Andrew Walker’s request to appoint Eric Lindberg and Chelsea Faulkner as Pocahontas County Representatives to the Board of the Mountaineer Trail Network.
In addition, the commissioners discussed the possibility of, in the future, passing a County Ordinance regarding dilapidated structures. Rebinski said he wouldn’t want such an ordinance to be punitive against the owners of these blighted properties, but instead it should be designed to assist and encourage those owners to remove or repair those structures.
Helmick said that before passing such an ordinance, they will first need to find a state-approved disposal site for the demolition debris, and suggested they invite state officials who regulate waste management to a future meeting to discuss this.
The commission also approved changes to their Personnel Guidelines and Policies Manual. Those changes involved issues such as jury duty, bereavement leave, meal reimbursement during official travel and holiday pay.