The auditorium at the Marlinton Municipal Building was full with residents attending the Marlinton Town Council meeting Monday night. The agenda was short, but the discussion was in-depth when it came to the proposed municipal fee.
The fee was on the agenda for its second reading and the residents had a lot to say. However, before the discussion, Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton gave a bit of background to get everyone caught up on the issue.
Felton explained that the municipal fee ordinance was provided to the town by its lawyer and was a copy of an ordinance from another town. In the first reading during the November meeting, several items in the ordinance were removed because they were not necessary for what council wanted to do.
For example, Felton said the ordinance included that a portion of the fee would be used for the fire department, but Marlinton already has a fire fee, so it was removed. The town lawyer then informed council that it could not remove anything from the ordinance that was directly taken from West Virginia State Code.
With that said, residents questioned whether or not the first reading of the ordinance was valid since some of what was taken out needed to be put back into the wording.
Residents also added that they are concerned about the fee due to how much it will cost individuals and business owners.
For business owners, the fee will be per building owned. Crystal Dean, who owns several businesses in town, said that it quickly adds up to a lot of money when the fee is multiplied per building owned.
Felton said he understood her concern and added that the reason for the proposed fee is so the town can reinstate a police department and be able to pay its officers a fair wage.
“We have to figure out a way to pay for it because we’ve always pulled out of the general fund for police – whether it was town police or the contract that has been used by the town council in years past with the state police,” he said.
Felton added that the town’s comprehensive plan stated that the top priority of the residents is to have a police department.
Zed Weatherholt said he read the comprehensive plan and while it does say the top priority is safety, his issue is that there is not enough data about what kind of crimes are happening in town and what the town police will be tasked with doing.
“The comprehensive plan does not contain data that I could find related to crime in the town,” he said. “I don’t see how you can employ law enforcement officers until you know what kind of crimes you’ve got to fight. I don’t understand that at all.”
“Well maybe we don’t need a police department,” Felton said.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Weatherholt replied. “I do know that this is the wrong way of going about doing it because you don’t know what you need. You have no idea. Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, you say you need a town force because ordinances are getting violated. What ordinances? Which ones? How often? How many? Who’s doing it? Where’s the data?
“You can’t solve a problem until you know what the problem is.”
Weatherholt added that the comprehensive plan stated that Marlinton’s demographic is an older population and a poorer popu- lation, and adding another fee to their bills will make it difficult for them to make ends meet.
Residents gave council suggestions of other ways to fund the police department without adding the municipal fee, including seeking grants and selling property owned by the town of Marlinton in town limits.
Caroline Sharp encouraged council to also enforce other parts of the comprehensive plan and not just the top priority.
“Your justification for wanting this ordinance is the comprehensive plan,” she said. “It does say in there that we want police protection, so if that’s the case, then I urge council to please follow the rest of the comprehensive plan and there’s a lot of important stuff in that comprehensive plan – green space, no development in floodplain, etc.”
Felton and council discussed the issue with the residents and agreed that it is a difficult decision to make.
Due to the question regarding the validity of the first reading, councilmember Joe Smith made a motion to void the first reading and to start over with a new first reading at the January 2024 meeting.
Council approved the motion and moved on to the rest of the agenda.
In other action:
• Residents informed council that there is a skunk problem in town which has caused some issues, especially with visitors who were put off by the “carnivorous, cat-sized mammals.”
It was reported that there are up to 20 skunks living under buildings in the town and they come out at night.
One individual said someone is scattering cat food behind the Greenbrier building which may be attracting the animals. Felton agreed and cautioned that residents should bring pet food into the house at night.
• Council approved a $300 donation to WVMR radio station. When Smith made the motion, he added that council should consider not making anymore donations to any organizations from this point forward.
Marlinton Town Council meets the first Monday of each month, excluding holidays, at 7 p.m. in the municipal auditorium. The public is welcome to attend in person or online through a Zoom link.