Before getting to the agenda at the August 16 Pocahontas County Commission meeting, the commission heard from Crystal Bond, who lives on Brush Country Road. Bond reinforced earlier complaints made to the commission about a neighbor setting off loud, earth-shacking explosions. She said she and her husband are Federal employees working remotely from their home, and these explosions have shaken her house, rattled and even knocked over their government-owned computer equipment, but when they call 911, no one responds or does anything about these explosions.
Commission President Walt Helmick assured her that the commission has been made aware of this problem and will do anything in its power to help, but they are not a law enforcement agency.
Commissioner John Rebinski reported on the training he recently received at the County Commission Conference. The most significant information he provided was about the “Property Tax Modernization Amendment,” which will be Amendment Number 1 on the November 8 General Election ballot.
Most everyone has read or heard about the amendment, which, if approved by the voters, could eliminate the personal property tax most of us pay each year on our vehicles. Rebinski explained that while Amendment 1 could be the first step in doing that, there is a lot more to it than simply eliminating our personal property tax.
Rebinski explained that, by itself, passage of Amendment 1 only changes the State Constitution to authorize the State Legislature to have the authority to eliminate the taxation of machinery and equipment and inventory used in businesses, as well as to eliminate the personal taxes paid on vehicles each year. So even if Amendment 1 is approved by the voters in November, nothing changes until when, and if, the State Legislature subsequently votes to eliminate those taxes.
Rebinski said that if the legislature eventually eliminates those taxes, all the counties in the state would lose one of their largest funding sources. He said the State Senate, if it eventually eliminates those taxes, has indicated that it would consider passing a remedy to replacing that funding to the counties. The proposed remedy would reimburse lost funding to each county, plus pay each county an additional bonus. Rebinski said these bonus amounts would vary for each county, but for Pocahontas County it could be $1 million under the Senate proposal.
Helmick said there are several problems with that reimbursement plan. First of all, there is no guarantee this reimbursement would continue every year. Secondly, while the revenue generated by the current tax generally increases as the value of equipment, inventory and personal vehicles increases, the proposed revenue replacements would not increase, but remain static. He said that counties may also be forced to share the reimbursed funding and the bonus funding with the municipalities in the county.
Rebinski added that the county’s jail billing would also be deducted from the bonus money under the Senate proposal. Additionally, the proposed reimbursement plan would still need to be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by the Governor, which is not guaranteed to happen.
Rebinski said the most important thing to remember about Amendment 1 on the November ballot is that passage of the amendment only gives the legislature the authority, which they currently do not have, to eliminate that tax, and for better or worse, it will have a major impact on the revenue received by the county.
In other business, the commission approved the recommendation of the Broadband Council to accept the bid from the Spilman Thomas & Battle law firm to represent it for the Pocahontas County ARC Broadband Project.
Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose delivered the annual report for the CVB. She summed it up by saying the tourism industry in the county is healthy, as reflected by an 18% increase of Hotel-Motel Tax revenue this past fiscal year over the previous year.
Judith Lyons of the West Virginia Conservation Agency discussed the stream erosion problem at the tannery site in Frank. She said the commission had selected Option 2 as its choice to fix the problem. That option costs $283,000 and involves placing riprap anti-erosion terraces and tow wood. Another option could have cost up to $471,000 to fix the problem. The commission still needs to apply for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and receive approvals from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
The commission approved the One Room University to hire Alicia Tallman as its Coordinator as a part-time employee without benefits.
Johnny Dean and representatives of other towing companies in the county complained about towing companies jumping calls, towing two vehicles from one call, and having out-of-county towers responding to tows in the county. Helmick said the Towing Committee needs to try and work these issues out among themselves before the commission gets involved with them.
Helmick also discussed the Handley Wildlife Management Area in the county. He said the WV Department of Natural Resources has indicated it no longer maintains that property, which has been a popular recreation and camping area in the county. Helmick said that while the county has no interest in owning the 776-acre property, it might be interested in a 20-year renewable lease on a small portion of it, which contains the camping facility and the lake. He speculated the Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation could possibly maintain that for the county residents to use and enjoy.
The commission also
• authorized the Assessor’s Office to use money currently in their budget to hire Jimmy Boggs to fill an existing vacancy as a full-time mapper.
• held an executive session to discuss legal issues with County Prosecutor Terri Helmick concerning the county-owned lots in East Cass.
• approved writing a letter requesting a $20,000 grant from the Green Bank Observatory to help finance the construction of the 911 tower in Bartow.
• approved a $1,200 funding request from the non-profit Bryans Battery, Inc. to help fund the 2022 Battle of Droop Mountain Civil War Reenactment, scheduled for October 8 and 9 at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.