Commissioners tackle controversial issues during all-day meeting
As commissioners near the end of the fiscal year, some of the county's long-time, ongoing issues were piled on the agenda. From animal welfare to the Slaty Fork Wastewater Treatment Plant to the use of county property and a proposed National Monument, commissioners waded through a packed agenda.
On a 2-1 vote, the commission approved transferring animal welfare to the purview of Sheriff David Jonese, whose staff will run a county-owned shelter at Allegheny Recreational Center on Second Avenue.
In doing so, the commission did not act on two bids submitted by Last Chance Animal Shelter ($45,500) at Bartow and ARC owners John Fitzgerald and J. P. Duncan ($74,400). Those bids mirrored last year's offering from each entity when Last Chance owner Sandy Mallow won the bid.
Jonese said he gave Mallow, the county's former humane officer and owner of Last Chance, a lot of credit for the work she's done in the past year, but that her location, as well as her part-time availability is becoming time-consuming and expensive.
The commission will pay ARC for utilities at a rate of $1,000 a month, since electric service for the two areas of the building cannot be partitioned. Jonese said he believed that the sheriff's department could keep the remainder of the costs like veterinarian bills, medicines and food within the county's budget of $38,000. However, the sheriff did say that he thought this proposal would allow the commission to get a true picture of costs for the future and for a baseline cost of a county-owned shelter.
Jonese said his proposal would incorporate the county's two volunteer animal welfare groups-the Pocahontas County Humane Society and the Pocahontas County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as defendants sentenced to the Pocahontas County Day Report Program.
Commission president David Fleming said he'd had compliments and criticisms of Mallow's performance as the animal shelter provider.
ARC leases the county-owned building, which was built in the late 1960s to house Hanover Shoe Company. Since Hanover closed in the early 1990s, the building has had sporadic occupancy, but had been largely vacant until ARC came up with a business plan for it a few years ago. Two years ago, the county commission built improvements there for an animal shelter, including portable kennels purchased at a cost of nearly $5,000.
Those kennels were moved to Last Chance last year, and there they will remain.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to leave the kennels at Last Chance in an effort to keep Mallow on the animal welfare wagon. Fleming said she would never own the kennels and the county could retrieve them at any time, but for now, they would stay in Bartow. Commissioners also voted to purchase new kennels-up to 32 cat cages and more than 25 dog kennels, including one quarantine kennel, not to exceed a cost of $6,500.
Commissioner Jamie Walker, who made the motion to approve the sheriff's proposal, dissented on the planned purchase. Commissioner Martin Saffer cast the nay vote to accept the sheriff's proposal.
Shipley returned to PSD board
In the decade-long pursuit of building a sewage treatment facility in the Slaty Fork/Snowshoe area, Tom Shipley has played a couple of roles, including the project's biggest detractor. For the past six years, he's sat on the Public Service District Board itself, guiding the project away from a centralized plant and toward smaller plants that the PSD's current engineer has said will be less expensive than one big plant.
Shipley's term was up this month, and, like every other issue that surrounds the plant, his reappointment stirred up a controversy.
Russell Holt, who has been a proponent of a large regional plant to serve not only Snowshoe Mountain Resort, but area residents, as well, said Shipley had bankrupted the PSD and had "nothing to show" for its time and money under Shipley's management. Holt also asserted that the two-plant proposition will indeed cost more than one centralized plant. And, he said operation and management costs would be 40 percent more than for one plant.
"The $10 million in savings deception is over," Holt said.
Holt asked commissioners to appoint someone from northern Pocahontas County, where the PSD manages a water system for Durbin, Frank and Bartow. None of the three current PSD members reside in that area.
Specifically, Holt suggested that former PSD member Mark Smith, who sent a letter of interest, be appointed. Holt said Smith left the PSD with a surplus of funds.
Fleming said he could not countenance that appointment because Smith had advocated putting the PSD into receivership.
Shipley said he had tried to consider everyone's needs in the area, including Holt's, but potential funding for the project is still in the state's hands. (See separate story)
"Very few people in the county disagree with our decisions," Shipley said.
A status conference at the Public Service Commission is slated for July 2.
Others who offered their services for the PSD seat included Ronald Doyle, Michael Vance and Glade Bennett.
Shipley was appointed on a 2-1 vote, with Walker dissenting.
Former commissioner not allowed to address commission
Former county commissioner Norman Alderman was on the agenda, but he was not allowed to address sitting commissioners on two issues.
Alderman was scheduled to address Jacob Meck's lease of public property at Green Bank, but Fleming told him that issue should come before the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, the county's lead economic development agency.
"We've talked about this extensively," Fleming said.
Alderman said the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals had agreed to hear his case, but Saffer said the case has merely gotten a docket number.
Alderman also said he had a petition to remove all three commissioners from office.
The governing body had even less patience for this threat, and deferred Alderman to the Circuit Court.
"The proper venue is upstairs," Saffer said. "Your complaint is to the Circuit Court. We don't want to hear it."
"I can complain to your face," Alderman responded. "I have a right to petition for a redress of grievances. I'm not yielding to this."
Only Walker seemed willing to listen.
"I feel like maybe we should listen to him," Walker said.
Commission votes to support Birthplace of Rivers National Monument
It would be the first of its kind in Appalachia and, according to proponents, would bring more visitors, more jobs and better marketability for the area.
But opponents of the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument say that it would restrict logging, and further glut an already tourist-filled area without having the infrastructure to do so.
The monument initiative is entirely citizen-driven, according to West Virginia Wilderness Coalition coordinator Mike Costello.
The monument will be adjacent to the already protected Cranberry Wilderness Area, and is already a part of the Monongahela National Forest. The Falls of Hills Creek, Cranberry Glades, Turkey Mountain and other forest attractions are also nearby.
Monument communities see an uptick in visitors and jobs in the surrounding area, Costello said. And while some National Monuments are managed by the National Parks Service, which restricts activities like hunting and timbering, Monuments managed by the Forest Service do not.
In fact, Costello said, the Birthplace of Rivers National Monument has gotten support from some entities that have butted heads with the Forest Service in the past. Trout Unlimited and the West Virginia Mountain Bikers Association expressed their support, he said. Add to that support from Hillsboro Library Friends, the Shavers Fork Coalition, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Pocahontas County Free Libraries, Mountain Valley Properties, Christians for the Mountains and 8 Rivers Council, Costello said.
"The Monument is designated to allow continued maintenance and development of wildlife openings," Costello said. "It is not designed to preclude activities like hunting and fishing."
Logging, he said, was another issue. Costello said only three percent of logging activities in Pocahontas County now take place on national forest land, he said, and the area is not necessarily compatible for logging activity, although some would take place in order to promote more spruce growth.
"The monument is about our heritage, but it is also about our future," Costello said. "We are now writing the next pages in the history books. What story are we passing on?"
Walker said he visited the area many times a month and couldn't see how it could be improved upon. In addition, the commissioner said, on one of his recent visits, all parking lots were full and he estimated 300 people were at Cranberry Glades. Walker, an avid hunter, said he was afraid hunting would be rejected as a permitted activity in the future.
Pretty Penny owner Blair Campbell said she didn't want it to change the area dramatically.
"This type of destination is giving us a status that would provide more protection twenty or thirty years down the road," Campbell said. "We are so lucky to live in this little bubble and it can be popped at any time.
"We're lobbying to make it even better. It needs that type of energy," she said of the area.
She noted that the population here is increasingly older and smaller, and that attention to details like the National Monument could attract 30-somethings who wanted to live in a rural area and start a business.
"We want educated people who aren't addicted to drugs to live here," she said. "It's not trying to tell us how to live, it's really people wholeheartedly trying to make this a better place to live."
Walker cast the dissenting vote, but the resolution passed with votes from Fleming and Saffer.
Felony cases dropped
During a discussion about Pocahontas County Day Report, officer Chuck Alexander said that numbers in his program are down, partly because felony cases have been dropped against 23 people. Those 23 people were charged with 43 felonies, mostly drug related.
Charges were dropped because of lack of action in the cases for more than three terms of court, Saffer said.
"They were all dismissed for failure to prosecute," Saffer said. "You should ask the prosecuting attorney what happened."
Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price said after the meeting that some of the cases had been transferred from bound over status to felony cases, and those defendants had pled guilty. Other cases could not be "salvaged," she said, because one of the deputies who investigated them is under indictment.
Former deputy Brad Totten was indicted in April on 12 counts of felony sex crimes. He is scheduled to stand trial in July.
Circuit Clerk Connie Carr said this happens about every six months. The charges were dropped just prior to the Primary Election in May. Price won the Democratic nomination for that seat. No Republican filed.
In other business, commissioners:
ﾕmade appointments to several of its boards and commissions.
ﾕdiscussed at length the county's insurance policies.
ﾕmade budget revisions.
ﾕdiscussed the Durbin Magistrate's office which is scheduled to close June 30. Commissioners were granted a six-month extension by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The commission meets again in regular session June 19 at 5 p.m.