Clashing commissioners canﾒt agree on PMH vote, dog ordinance
County commissioners found themselves at odds over several topics Tuesday, disagreeing about who could vote on a proposed cash advance to financially ailing Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and the first reading of the countywide dog ordinance.
Commission president Martin Saffer set the tone for the day when he would not agree to vote on a road name change from Fairview Road to Clifford Sharp Road. Saffer maintained he would not entertain comissioner Reta Griffithﾒs motion until commissioner David Fleming arrived. Fleming was more than 30 minutes late for the 8:30 a.m. meeting.
Saffer drew fire from Griffith when PMHﾒs $75,000 cash advance came up next on the agenda.
The money comes from Hotel/Motel Tax payments and is usually disbursed early in the year. PMH received the payment in February this year.
But several factors have caused PMHﾒs new management team from Minnie Hamilton Health Systems to ask for an advance including a $1.3 million loss for fiscal year 2009-2010, which MHHS chief financial officer Steve Whited said could be reduced to nearly half that once the auditors have reviewed the hospitalﾒs financial statements. Continuing bad debts are yet another factor, as is cash flow.
ﾓ[At the] current status, the facility would actually be bankrupt,ﾔ Whited told the commission. ﾓThe cash flow as it is [the hospital] could not be sustained.ﾔ
Saffer was prepared to move the commission advance the funds, but Griffith reminded him that he couldnﾒt vote on PMH finances because his wife works there as a nurse.
ﾓI know what the statute says,ﾔ Saffer snapped back. ﾓI wrote it.ﾔ
ﾓIf we wait for David itﾒs cleaner,ﾔ Griffith said. ﾓYouﾒve recused yourself before.ﾔ
ﾓIﾒm not going to worry about that,ﾔ Saffer said.
ﾓIﾒm not going to be held hostage for ego,ﾔ Griffith retorted.
Saffer acutally wrote the statute that allows his wife to work at the county facility. West Virginia Code 61-10-15 says that commissioners cannot have pecuniary interests in their votes, either directly or indirectly.
When Fleming arrived, Griffith made the motion to advance the money to PMH. Saffer conceded to her point, although he said he did not agree with her and abstained from the vote, which passed 2-0.
Whited also pointed out other cost-saving measures the PMH managment team is implementing, including bringing the billing back to the hospital from its remote location in Nashville, Tennessee, and reducing overtime.
The commissionﾒs line item for Hotel/Motel Tax will run in the red for a few months, which Fleming said is allowed by the auditor.
ﾓI think this commisson believes this hospital has got to succeed,ﾔ Saffer said. ﾓItﾒs essential to our economic prosperity, essential to our social welfare.ﾔ
The fuss over Safferﾒs ability to vote carried over into the next appointment and so did the rancor.
Drug abuse prevention has been one of Safferﾒs pet projects since his election in 2006. But a contingency fund with less than $35,000 that must stretch until next June gave the commission president pause when the Prevention Coalition asked for $10,000 for continuing its projects.
Prevention Coalition representative Ginny Ramos said her group had measurable proof that their efforts are paying off because survey data show that seventh, eighth and ninth graders have reduced their monthly use of alcohol and marijuana since 2005 and that parentsﾒ disapproval of alcohol and marijuana use has increased.
ﾓPMH is the most important cost that the commission has to meet,ﾔ Saffer said. ﾓI understand the enormity of the plan weﾒre trying to deal with. We have to put things in perspective. Until PMH gets its footing on firm ground and weﾒre sure itﾒs going to make it, I want to make sure this commission has enough bullets in its belt to fire a few more shots.ﾔ
His fellow commissioners disagreed, however, with Fleming reminding Saffer that less than $35,000 would not be a ﾓvery big bulletﾔ to help the hospital.
ﾓItﾒs worthwhile to ask, ﾑwhat can we spend this money on?ﾒ If we give money to this today, itﾒs a third of what we have left for the entire budget year,ﾔ Fleming said. ﾓBut look what we spent it on. Kids.ﾔ
Griffith had no problem with the expenditure, either, and recalled that Saffer had some responsiblity for the countyﾒs financial dip.
ﾓYou rolled back the tax rates,ﾔ Griffith said, ﾓand thereﾒs some belt tightening to consider. If these programs are important to you, this is what weﾒre cutting when you do those things.
ﾓThis is by no means a bankrupt county. I donﾒt want to see us go backwards.ﾔ
In fact, the commission had nearly $1 million in the stabilization fund meant for a courthouse annex, nixed earlier this year by Saffer and Fleming. Thus far, commission has voted to repair the roof on the existing annex and the boiler in the old jail, using less than $500,000 for those projects.
Griffith said money from that fund could be used for the hospital.
ﾓItﾒs encouraging to think there are other options,ﾔ Fleming said.
The sheriff had a dire warning for the commission.
ﾓIf we donﾒt get [drug abuse] under control, everything else is going to collapse,ﾔ Sheriff David Jonese said. Jonese said Pocahontas County has the Number Two drug problem in the state, based on population.
Flemingﾒs motion to give the money to the Prevention Coalition, where staff has worked for two months as volunteers, passed 2-1, with Saffer dissenting.
But it was the dog ordinance that brought malevolence from outside the room to the commissionersﾒ table.
Minnehaha Springs resident Rick McCarty said he believed the proposed ordinance is all about him.
Since he moved to the tiny community, McCarty said heﾒd had trouble with his neighbors, beginning with how he mowed his grass and how he built his driveway.
His own dogs have been poisoned, he said, and killed near his neighborsﾒ tree stand.
ﾓThis is a personal thing,ﾔ he said. ﾓThey talk about the dogs being a nuisance.ﾔ
For his part, McCarty said, he puts up with excessive human noise from his neighbors that causes his dogs to bark.
He demanded an ordinance that would give him relief from his neighborsﾒ actions.
Saffer said he wanted to foster discussions amongst the public, but asked McCarty to stay on the topic of dogs.
ﾓIs it right for them to kill my dogs?ﾔ McCarty rejoined.
Saffer and Fleming tried to explain that from a county perspective that the first step would be for the sheriff to talk to the offending dogﾒs owner and try to settle the dispute amicably. Dogs would be confiscated only as a last resort, after a magistrate court hearing.
The Republican candidate for county commission, a dog owner and avid hunter, Jamie Walker, said he took care of his dogs and their barking by using shocking collars. The dogsﾒ are kept about 50 feet from his bedroom window, he said.
But, Walker said, if his neighbors became angry with him for any reason, the ordinance would give them an avenue for retribution.
ﾓItﾒs personal [then],ﾔ Walker said. ﾓItﾒs not about the dogs.ﾔ
ﾓIf your dog is 50 feet from someone elseﾒs bedroom window, your neighbors have no recourse,ﾔ Sheriff David Jonese said.
Fleming said he wanted to pass the ordinance because he wants residents to have the legal authority to go to the sheriff with complaints, but, he said, he hopes that people will keep the complaints legitimate.
ﾓI want to give complainants an ordinance so that they see justice done,ﾔ Fleming said.
ﾓYour rights and your dog [are] not superior to your neighborsﾒ,ﾔ Saffer said. ﾓIt is a balance of equities. It is a balance of reaching middle ground.ﾔ
Walker was not ready to let it go at that.
ﾓIﾒm talking about these idiots who donﾒt take care of their dogs,ﾔ he said.
ﾓThatﾒs what weﾒre talking about,ﾔ Jonese agreed.
The first reading of the ordinace passed on yet another 2-1 vote, with Griffith voting no.
The commissioner from the central district said that, among other things she found to be objectionable, enforcing the clean up of the waste of dogs running at large is impossible.
Commissoners did agree to pass the changes to the Floodplain Ordinance on first reading and two budget revisions.
The commission meets again in regular session October 19.