Hotel/Motel Tax percentages stay the same
The Pocahontas County Commission left Hotel/Motel Tax revenue to be divvied in the same percentages as last year, but all takers will see a decrease in their budgets because of a $28,620.56 drop in revenues.
Hotel/Motel tax is collected from visitors who stay in lodging facilities. The Pocahontas Convention and Visitors Bureau gets the first 50 percent, according to statute. After that, the commission is allowed to give up to $200,000 to medical and emergency agencies in the county. Pocahontas Memorial Hospital receives $75,000 annually, the Firefighters Association receives $50,000, and Emergency Medical Services gets $75,000. The commission has also saved $30,000 of H/M revenue for its bricks and mortar fund.
Revenue for July-December 2010 was $212,651.23; for the same six months last year, revenue dipped to $184,030.67, according to a spokesperson in the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Department.
"Leave it as it is and hope for the best," said commissioner Martin Saffer.
As it is means:
Parks and Recreation Board: 32 percent
Pocahontas County Arts Council: 6 percent
Pocahontas County Landmarks Commission: 6 percent
Dramas, Fairs and Festivals: 22 percent
Pocahontas County Free Libraries Board: 34 percent
The commission got updates from Parks and Recreation and from the Library Board.
Parks and Recreation president Mike Holstine told the commission his group provides a "large number of activities" for pre-schoolers through adults, as well as provides support to other entities, such as youth soccer, the Durbin Library and Dramas, Fairs and Festivals.
A major part of Parks and Rec's mission is to complete the wellness center in Marlinton; however, that project hit a snag when all bids came in higher than the budget would allow.
Long-time Parks and Rec board member Roger Trusler said the board will advertise for bidders again after reducing the amount of square footage in the facility plans. Trusler said Parks and Rec will have a pre-bid conference February 14. Bids will be opened February 29. Trusler said he hopes local contractors will take a look at the project.
"We want to see local employment involved in this project," he said.
Pocahontas County Free Libraries director Vicky Terry noted that commissioners are aware of the importance of libraries.
"We are able to provide services and technologies to people who can't afford it," Terry said. "I average 700 people a month on the computers. We circulated 4,000 materials county-wide."
Besides residents, tourists use the libraries for WiFi connections to pay bills and check in at home," she said.
PCFL treasurer Beth Little said the library board would not ask for more money, but they are "running a deficit." Little said that meant the board may have to draw on an endowment, which will result in lower interest earnings in the future.
But the bug in the budget for the library board is its role as overseer of the money for the Pocahontas County Preservation group.
According to the governing body's minutes, in 2009, the commission increased the library board's percentage two points, on a motion by commissioner Martin Saffer. Although the motion itself does not reflect the intent to place preservation under the library umbrella, Saffer's statement prior to the motion said his intent was to do just that.
Former library director Allen Johnson said he thought the funds should be severed, and that the preservation group needs to have "dedicated funding."
Preservation officer B. J. Gudmundsson said her group needs to show long-term support in order to raise grant money from entities like the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Preservation Alliance.
"I feel like the library has hung us out to dry," she said. "Without the library to help us, we can't get grants for long range plans."
Gudmundsson said her ultimate concern is finishing the projects with which people have entrusted her.
Gudmundsson said she has family collections of photographs and documents that she has promised to scan and return, and she intends to keep that promise.
"I'm unnerved," she said.
But Little said the library board was never given instructions to work preservation into their budget.
"A three year thing was put together really fast," she said. "[There's] never been a description for what it was going to entail."
Johnson said he could not "fire a shot into the helm" of the library, and funding preservation with existing library funds would be the equivalent of losing several hours a year at a library.
"Do I close Hillsboro or Durbin?" Johnson asked. "Then can I do it? We have never worked it into our budget."
Gudmundsson held her ground.
"We did a three-year budget last January," she said. "It was given to the board and to the commission. Maybe they didn't understand what was involved in archiving. You can't take people's stuff and archive it and throw it out there and leave it."
Because of dwindling Hotel/Motel Tax revenue, commissioners were in no mood to subtract money from one group to fund another, nor were they willing to take preservation from under the library's purview. Commission president David Fleming told Gudmundsson to gather information about other funding sources and return to the commission in February.
While percentages were not an issue for the Firefighters' Association, Marlinton Fire Chief Herby Barlow said volunteer firefighters are at every county event, be it disaster or festival.
But volunteering isn't cheap.
Training takes 96 hours and to outfit a new firefighter costs about $3,000, he said. In addition, new equipment can cost as much as half a million dollars. Those investments have had payoffs for county residents in the Snowshoe and Marlinton areas, where volunteer fire departments have the top tier rating of 5, resulting in lower fire insurance rates.
"You need to consider first responders first," Barlow said.
While the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace is not among the recipients of the Hotel/Motel Tax, a board representative was at the commission meeting last Tuesday to ask for money.
Sue Groves told commissioners that the Nobel Prize winning author's birthplace is "in rather dire financial straits." Groves said the board has developed long- and short-term plans to improve its financial situation. But in the short-term, she said, the board wants the commission to match its fundraising efforts up to $5,000.
"The commission should do everything it can within reason to support it," Saffer said. "Pearl S. Buck is one of the most important buildings in Hillsboro."
Groves said the board is going to market the historic birthplace as a wedding destination, and will work with the magazine "West Virginia Weddings" on amenities such as landscaping, improving the kitchen at the Sydenstricker House, enclose the back porch of that house and purchase a tent.
"Weddings are big business," she said. "We can help ourselves, and the community in general. Weddings bring requests for catering [and] photography."
Groves said the board is holding several fundraisers, including a wine tasting at the Pretty Penny in Hillsboro and a croquet tournament.
Fleming said the commission would make a decision regarding Groves' request at its February 6 meeting when it is scheduled to make contributions from its discretionary fund.
Commissioners were not impressed with an estimate to remodel the stairwell where a chairlift was removed after the elevator was installed in the courthouse.
Commissioner Jamie Walker said to "lock [the door] and leave it locked."
However, Fleming and Saffer said a lock was not the solution because of fire codes.
Commissioners want to hear from a local contractor.
The commission took on two complicated internal topics.
One, credit card limits for employees and elected officials, got no resolution, because the dollar limit does not limit the type of purchase and vice-versa.
Commissioners also tried to wrap their heads around "gifts" for employees, meaning any shirt, belt buckle or trip to lunch in a county vehicle would be taxable income for the employee. Saffer said it was a "desperate" attempt by the federal government to reduce the deficit.
The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, February 6, at 8:30 a.m.