This week, the Pocahontas County commissioners described the goals they want the commission to achieve during the next 12 months.
Commissioner David Fleming
These three areas are key to solving what I consider to be Pocahontas County’s biggest dilemma: a decreasing population, compounded with a decreasing percentage of young families. Making progress on the three areas below should help us reverse the population trend and get us growing once more.
1. Continued improvements to Internet access and speed. From day one as a new commissioner, I participated with our Region IV Planning & Development Council to design and promote a $47 million fiber Internet backbone in our nine-county area (all the counties from both Region I and Region IV). This project was considered for stimulus funding, and while it was ultimately not funded, this work paved the way for Pocahontas County to partner with neighboring Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telecommunications (SKSRT) in Pendleton County. Unlike our Region I/Region IV proposal, SKSRT’s Internet expansion proposal was funded, and as of this writing, SKSRT is expanding into northern Pocahontas County, signing up new customers who are frustrated with current broadband offerings. I am excited about how this development will improve Internet access and speed for a large portion of Pocahontas County.
While this is a great start to offering competitive and improved broadband access to our citizens and businesses, there is still much work to do. Frontier Communications, who provides Internet to most areas of Pocahontas County, is currently working on improvements to their infrastructure. While I have great hope that Frontier’s upgrades will come to fruition, I am keenly aware of the large incongruity between Frontier’s advertised “up to” Internet broadband service and what our residents and businesses are actually getting for their money. In a nutshell, our Frontier customers in Pocahontas County are far from getting what they are paying for. In 2014, I want to continue to support competitive alternatives to Frontier in order to encourage improvements to both performance and price point. I also want to see Frontier begin to deliver on its promises, and toward this end I will ask our state legislature to pursue regulatory options for Internet in West Virginia (currently, only telephone service is regulated by the WV Public Service Commission) so that the disparity will be eliminated between stated speeds and actual speeds.
2. Local foods. As a new grower and purveyor of locally, naturally grown produce ourselves, I have come to know many farmers and growers who believe in the potential that Pocahontas County has in this market. For the past few years, I have attended small farm workshops around the state, and the potential is apparent: West Virginia is poised to be a top producer of specialty foods in the east. Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick is working hard to double West Virginia’s agricultural economy, and Pocahontas County, with our lush farmlands and generations of farming know-how, is central to this endeavor. We need to increase our partnerships between growers and institutions such as restaurants and schools. We need to realize our potential to not only sell to our institutions here at home, but to our neighboring states and beyond. A key to enabling these partnerships and markets is the establishment of a food aggregation and distribution network. Commissioner Helmick and the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC – our county’s development authority) are working on the creation of a facility in our three-county region (Pocahontas, Greenbrier, Monroe). The Pocahontas County Commission must begin to support this pursuit in new and creative ways. In 2014, I will be looking to how we can create complementary infrastructure here in Pocahontas County to enable our growers and buyers to participate fully in this expanding market.
3. Snowshoe area sewer facility. For more than a decade now, our county has struggled with the creation of a sewer facility in the Snowshoe area. A new facility is greatly needed to accommodate current demand, and more importantly to allow for economic development to resume and grow in this area of Pocahontas County. While the project had a very rough start and endures ongoing contention, much progress has been made with a final engineering design in sight. Contingent upon acceptance of that design, project funding is available and ground could conceivably be broken on the project in 2014. I will continue to encourage cooperation between all parties, and will continue to support the Pocahontas County Public Service District as their employees and their board work tirelessly to reach this objective.
Commissioner William Beard
When I was appointed to replace Dolan Irvine’s position on the commission, I had a goal to work well with the other commissioners and foster cooperation between all three of us. That does not mean however that we would always agree on all topics. I feel that the cooperation within the commission has proven to be very amicable and productive. It is my goal that the spirit of our cooperation will continue.
One goal I would like to pursue farther this year is working with the sheriff’s office to promote the Day Report program. Hopefully, some wonderful things can come out of the program that will offer training and rehabilitation to help people get their lives back on track.
My next goal is to hopefully see construction begin on the waste water management facility at Linwood and Snowshoe by the end of the year. This process has been in the works for quite some time and the people deserve to see its completion.
As a member of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, I would like to see some of the county owned properties used for some sort of business purpose that would provide jobs and economic benefits for our county.
One goal that I would feel is very important is careful management of county finances through careful budgeting.
Commissioner Jamie Walker
“A county disaster shelter is a very important thing,” Walker said. “From one end to the other; for the elderly people; for the younger people. People have a hard time surviving now without power, without water, with no water and no food. So I think that definitely is the number one issue, in my opinion. When it comes to building a facility like that, there’s a lot of money involved. Hopefully, you can find somebody to partner with you, who’s basically got the facilities, as far as cooking and showering and space for living, like a school, or perhaps the senior center or the observatory, which is basically already an emergency shelter. You would just about have to partner with somebody, rather than starting off from scratch. Generators and freezers is the main things we lack. That’s the goal that I have and I hope it works out.
“I thought from the beginning we were investing too much money in the animal shelter and trying to save animals, when we possibly could be looking at some of our kids and people in this county. When you’re feeding cats and dogs that possibly aren’t healthy, and you got kids who don’t know what they’re going home to – what’s more important? In my opinion, people is more important than animals. I think the animal shelter budget could be cut dramatically.
“Hopefully, we can start putting county facilities back into our own buildings, rather than leasing and renting other space, because we’re heating it, we’re maintaining it and we’re keeping it up. Put as many county-operated facilities in our own properties to just save money. Storage, for example – we’re renting a lot of storage facilities, just to put tires and whatever in. When we had two vehicles that was impounded, that was $40,000 almost. So things like that need to be upgraded and I feel the Hanover Building would be an ideal place for storage, especially.
“I just don’t see the benefit to a National Monument in Pocahontas County. I think my goal is to have more people see what we are already gaining from the National Forest. Nobody sees what we’re already getting. All they can see is what they’re telling them we’re going to get in the future. If we could come up with a figure as to what Cranberry Glades and Hills Creek Falls and the High Rocks and the Scenic Highway brings to Pocahontas County, in a dollar amount, I think it would amaze you. Just people looking at the leaves – there’s probably 500 people driving across the Scenic Highway every day. They stop and eat; they get gas; they buy pop and alcohol. I think that’s something that needs to be brought out more, is what we’re already gaining with what we got, rather than what we’re going to gain if we change it.”
Next week’s edition will include the goals of the Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney. Mr. Simmons’ heavy workload this week did not allow time to prepare a statement. In January 2015, The Pocahontas Times will follow up with elected officials to determine the progress made toward their goals.