County Commission candidates discuss issues

The Pocahontas Times and Allegheny Mountain Radio hosted a forum for Pocahontas County Commission candidates on Monday evening. Democratic candidates William Beard and David McLaughlin and Republican candidate Charles Wilfong attended the forum. Republican candidate Norman Alderman was unable to participate due to an out-of-town trip.

During the forum, candidates answered questions on a number of topics. For each question, the first respondent had two minutes; the other candidates had one minute to respond; followed by a one-minute additional comment by the first respondent. The first three questions and responses follow.

See a video of the forum in its entirety at the Video page of this website

Question 1: Are you in favor of a resort area district at Snowshoe?

Charles Wilfong: I am not. Under the current proposal, I am not. Maybe there could be provisions made, some changes made to it so that it would be something that would be workable for Snowshoe and the rest of the county. But at this time, I have some of the same concerns that some of the bankers have. What impact is it going to have on the value of properties at Snowshoe? How much control would they have, as a corporate entity? It’s close to being an incorporation, as far as being a town. If that would happen, then they would have the ability to keep the hotel/motel tax money, which is so important to Pocahontas County and so many of our programs. The bonded indebtedness and things that are possible through the legislation are very troubling, because the homeowners at Snowshoe could be stuck with servicing the debts for bonds when they really don’t have any control over how the money from those bonds would be used. What it would do to property values; what it would do to the future of the resort itself, I think would be very much in question if we would go ahead with the proposal the way it is today. I won’t rule it out totally. Maybe they can make changes in the Legislature to the program. Maybe they can make some provisions so that it wouldn’t be so onerous to the property owners. But at the present time, I am against it.

William Beard: If you listen to what the County Commission’s done in the past, you would probably say I’m opposed to it, since I voted no on voting for it, at that time. But I’m really not opposed to it; I’m opposed to a lot of the things that are put into the RAD. As far as the service fee end of it, the two-to-five percent service fee they can add onto service products and work up there, I can’t see that, from my talk with various people, very few people are opposed to it. It’s more the assessment that people are opposed to. I haven’t been satisfied with the way it was written into the bill at the state level. There’s questions that we can put an order in it from the Commission, to change some of those, to make it feel like we’re more satisfied. But at this point, there still needs to be a lot of work and there’s a pretty good chance it could go back to the state and be amended or changed in some way that would make it more comfortable for us to use it. But I’m not opposed to it. I feel like the service fee end of it, up to five percent – you go to resorts and hotels and they have all those fees and what do we do? We pay them and never say anything about them. So, at this point, it’s still kind of a work out deal.

David McLaughlin: The RAD’s really new to West Virginia and extremely new to Pocahontas County. It’s new legislation, passed last year, and we’re the first county to consider having a district of that sort. Right now, I’m against the RAD in its present form. It’s never been talked about much, but the load that it’s going to put on the county in three years, if that RAD would pass. That’s including the Sheriff’s Department, the Tax Department, the County Clerk, dealing with liens, collecting fees and accounting for all that money. That’s a big load on our county officials and I don’t even think they’ve been considered yet, if they’ve been talked to about it much. It can be changed and tweaked, but it has to be changed a lot. The banking community came in and said they were opposed to that part of it. Evidently, the RAD wasn’t investigated a lot to see what was really in that thing. That’s a big bunch of legislation and a lot of law that concerned the RAD. It could be tweaked and maybe used later on. I appreciate what the County Commission’s done in the last couple months by not approving that.

Wilfong: The one thing I would add is that, in its initial stages, it took a 25 percent vote of the people affected, a 25 percent negative vote, in order to kill it. It was a fraction of a percent vote that it lacked of being killed outright by the people associated with it. In a vote that close and with as much misunderstanding as there is about the whole project, I just think it would be better to hold off for now. There may be something to do through the legislative process to work out a better system. But in its present form, I would have to oppose it becasue of a number of things. I think it would be a detriment rather than a help. I wouldn’t be against those service fees. Anywhere you go, you end up paying those. But we’re going to be the first county to do this. We need to take the time to do it right.

What action would you take as a commissioner with regard to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline?

Beard: I personally think it’s a little bit premature to take any action yet. I feel like there’s a lot for all of us, including myself as a commissioner, to learn about the project and figure out exactly where it’s going to go. A lot of times, people jump in and oppose or support a project before they really realize what the project is about. Maybe I’m a little bit slower about coming to a conclusion, but I’m not sure what actions we can take, as far as the Commission. The thing I’m concerned about, as much as anything, with a pipeline coming through, is that I’ve never been a person who believed in taking somebody’s land for a private company’s use. I’ll oppose that for my personal reasons because I’m sure, if somebody come through my land, I would sure oppose it because I wouldn’t want it. And I can see their point, were a pipeline coming through. But, you also have to look at jobs in the county. There’s a lot of people, friends of mine, who work in another state that are gone four or five days a week and come home. They’re sure looking for a place to work. I think that’s another thing we have to look at and see if it is going to bring some jobs in here. We really have to take a serious look at it before we say no or yes.

McLaughlin: It’s kind of early to be making a decision one way or the other with the County Commission. If FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] were to approve that pipeline and the Forest Service approves that pipeline, I would not stand in the way of approving construction of the pipeline. It’s going to create some jobs. Maybe some economic gain in the county. Our governor has approved it. [Governor Terry] McAuliffe in Virginia has approved it. Most of your other elected officials in the county, I think, are not opposed to it. But if FERC approves that thing and the Forest Service approves it, it’s not in the County Commission’s hands. I believe it’s out of their hands if they approve it. One way or the other, with or without their blessing, it’s probably going to happen

Wilfong: This is a tough issue. Mainly because there’s a lot at stake with it, on both sides. A lot of folks are saying that Pocahontas County won’t get that much from this directly. But when you look at the amount of funds that are raised through the natural gas extraction process, we are sitting on top of the largest natural gas field in the world – West Virginia and this Appalachian area. In order for that to be used, we’re going to have to have pipelines somewhere. I realize, for economic development, a lot of it won’t stay here in West Virginia. A lot of it’s going to go to Virginia and North Carolina. But the funds that we get from coal are going down. The one spot that we have that’s growing is the oil and gas industry. Even though we’re not directly getting funds, there are state funds that come to the county that fund a lot of our programs, that are oil and gas related. The property rights part really disturbs me because that’s what we’ve worked on the hardest through the Farm Bureau – private property protection. Anytime eminent domain is used, I’ve got a real problem with it. If it’s willing folks that are making these agreements, it’s one thing. But I think the County Commission is going to have to be a little bit involved on the placement, hopefully, so that there isn’t eminent domain used through this process.

Beard: We do have to look at the infrastructure of the gas business in this state. Gas has to go somewhere. I don’t have any concern about the gas going to Virginia or North Carolina. But it would irritate me if a leg goes to the coast and is going to be exported. That’s a bummer, I think, because I feel this country shouldn’t be selling its resources off to another country, when we need it here. I think we’d probably be better off to work with Dominion than fight them, because if they want to put it through, I don’t think the County Commission has a lot of authority to stop it.

Question 3: Are you in favor of enhanced security, including county employee armed guards, at the courthouse?

McLaughlin: At this time, I’m not in favor of enhanced security. I know some of the people there have concerns, but I don’t think there’s an imminent danger at our courthouse. If there happens to be some threats, directly toward those employees presenting bodily harm, that would be reason, maybe, to have that enhanced security. But right now I wouldn’t be in favor of enhanced security. One thing I thought about – we have several deputies in the county. If they want an armed person, put the deputies on a rotation. Let a deputy be at the courthouse every day of the week. Rotate them and don’t use the same one every week. But rotate them and have a deputy in there if they think that would help their security.

Wilfong: I wouldn’t be in favor of enhanced security. I wouldn’t want to do anything that would limit ordinary folks’ access to our courthouse. A good example of it is – last year, during the legislative session, I was down in Charleston on the last day of the session and we were there till midnight. We’ve got one of the only state capitols in the country where, at midnight, you can still come and go freely, from our state capitol. There’s free access and people have access to the Legislature. That same free, unimpeded access is important to our people here in the county, so that they don’t feel threatened to come to their place of government, which would be our county courthouse. If there is any kind of threats, I would definitely be in favor of some enhanced security, with folks within our Sheriff’s Department or the State Police to take care of that, on a time-to-time basis, if that occurred. But as far as going to an elaborate system that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the maintenance on it would be very expensive too – at this time, I would not be in favor of that.

Beard: I spent a whole lot of time dealing with that since I’ve been on the Commission and I’ve gone to a lot of the meetings at the courthouse and talked to the courthouse people. There are concerns and there’s also a grant that we could receive for a whole lot of money to buy equipment. But the problem with that is that you can buy it, but you’ve got to use your own money to man it, and it would probably cost two employees plus a service cost to provide maintenance on the computer and all the cameras and equipment. That would run the cost up to about $120,000 total. When we went to the budget, there was not enough money to put in for that much of an increase in employment. We felt there might be some purpose to have some security there, if you could afford it, but at that point, there were no funds that would allow us to go any further. It’s a shame to turn a $250,000 grant down, but when you have to maintain it, it just didn’t work out well enough. At this point, people in the county are very much opposed to having security. They want to come and go with their freewill. I just think, for a rural county, the cost and all, you hate to not do it and then some incident would happen. I know I’d feel bad if it would, but cost-wise, it’s just not feasible for this county at this point.

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