Four hours and 20 minutes. That’s how long the January 18 special Marlinton Town Council meeting lasted. The agenda had three items up for discussion with no action to be taken.
All three items – the Beard Heights sewer and water system, Home Rule information and the municipal fee ordinance – drew residents to the meeting, resulting in standing room only for those who wished to share their concerns and learn more about the issues.
The Home Rule application was the first topic, and a topic council has been discussing for several months. Home Rule is granted by the state government and gives autonomy to the local government in certain aspects.
The town of Marlinton is applying in order to enact a one percent tax on all retail sales within town limits. Mayor Sam Felton said the money collected from the tax would be used to bring back town police service.
During the discussion, the town’s CPA, Jeff Feamster, was on Zoom, explaining that the sample application he was provided by the town did not have financial statements included, but if the town wants to include financial information, it would only help the application.
Feamster also explained that the Home Rule tax is one of the best options for the town because the state takes care of most of the work.
“It will simplify things in that the state is collecting it,” he said. “The businesses don’t have to worry about reporting it. The reality is, whereas the B&O tax falls all to the owners of the business, the sales tax falls on the people that are paying it and you will get sales tax from people from outside of the city.”
Unlike the proposed municipal tax, which was initially suggested as a way to bring in funds until the Home Rule application is approved, the Home Rule tax will be paid by everyone shopping in the town of Marlinton, including visitors who are passing through or here on vacation.
“It’s one of the few remaining revenue streams that could make a difference in the town, and the beauty of it is, the visitors – I would estimate – this is just a gut feeling, but the visitors and folks passing through this area will end up paying as much as what the residents end up paying,” Felton said. “I really believe that.”
“It doesn’t cost the town to implement it because the cost of implementing is all handled by the state,” Feamster added. “Whereas any other fee you add, somebody’s got to maintain, you’re sending out bills, you’re sending out postage. It is, by far, the best revenue source you can have because the state’s doing all the work for you.”
While discussing the Home Rule application, the municipal fee ordinance was reviewed and members of the audience shared concerns about the proposed fee. Many residents said they were concerned about individuals living on a fixed income who already have trouble paying their bills. There were also several business owners who were concerned about how much the fee would be for rental spaces.
In the last hour of the meeting, council decided that it would be best to focus on the Home Rule application and put aside the proposed municipal fee ordinance at this time.
Council made a list of what was needed to finish the application and Recorder Mary Clendenen said there needed to be three readings of the application since it involved ordinances. Council scheduled three special meetings to be held in February and March in order to get the application approved and submitted.
When council moved on to the Beard Heights sewer and water system discussion, Felton invited Pocahontas County Commission President Walt Helmick to explain the proposed project at Beard Heights.
Helmick gave a brief history of the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital expansion, which has doubled the size of the facility and has added more services for the community.
Helmick said the county has purchased property near the hospital for an additional sewage system that will serve PMH and adjacent doctors’ offices/pharmacy, Marlinton Middle School and the state police barracks.
“We purchased the land, we’re going to put a new sewage plant there, and we’re also in the process of purchasing another little piece of land that would satisfy any potential problems with the water,” he said.
In total, this will give the system wells that will produce 50 gallons of water per minute. At this time, Helmick said the system is using 64,000 gallons of water a month.
Helmick said the new sewage system could take up to five years to complete, but once completed, the plan is to have the town of Marlinton take over the water and sewage service.
“We don’t want to be in the water and sewer business,” he said. “We want to be in the medical care business. So we would prefer someone that has experience in it.”
Several Beard Heights residents were under the impression that once the system was in service, they would be required to hook up to Marlinton water and sewer instead of using their own wells and septic systems.
Felton and Helmick explained that it is not the intention to add anything other than PMH, the doctors’ offices and pharmacy, MMS and the state police to the town’s system once the new sewer system is complete.
At the end of the meeting, council discussed the public input portion of meeting agendas and agreed that from this point forward, those interested in speaking at meetings will have to sign in, and each individual will be given three minutes to address the council.