Directional sign debate leaves council members unclear
In the aftermath of a storm that knocked the wind out of most of the county, Marlinton town council members deliberated the legality of small, blue directional signs which indicate dining and lodging. The signs were hung without permission from the town. Power returned to the county seat Sunday, just about 36 hours after the windstorm Friday, June 29.
Mayor Joe Smith recently appointed a sign committee comprised of council members and local business owners, to weigh the town's options regarding signage.
Two outdoor advertising inspectors from the Department of Highway came to Marlinton at the council's request earlier in the summer. They informed Smith and council member David Zorn that the signs were illegal and had to come down. The signs are still up.
"I thought they were going to come down," said council member Natasha McMann. "I've had citizens ask why they weren't down if they were illegal."
Council member Louise Barnisky echoed McMann's concerns.
"I don't know why this town wants to do something that's illegal, when we know it's illegal," said Barnisky.
Local business owner Nelson Hernandez said the signs attract business and he still has yet to see any law regarding the signs.
"I haven't seen anything that says it's illegal, all I hear is so-and-so said this," said Hernandez. "All I'm asking is for someone to show me a piece of paper that says it's wrong. There were only two council members at that meeting [with the DOH], there was no public at the meeting and everybody has got their own interpretation."
"They verbally told us that they were illegal, but they never showed us anything in black and white that said it was illegal," conceded Smith. "I thought it was understood that the signs would stay up until the committee made an informed decision as to what we could do correctly and legally."
Robin Mutscheller, town recorder said her concern is the same now as it was at the last council meeting - liability to the town.
Hernandez said the two representatives from the DOH have agreed to come out and meet again with the newly-appointed sign committee in August.
In other business, Smith read the Mayor's Report.
Smith said he attended the Region IV regular meeting on June 14. Smith said Dave Sharp, of Potesta Engineering, was in and brought a preliminary engineering report for the combined sewage system project. The project is intended to separate stormwater from sewage. Smith said he talked with W.D. Smith, of Region IV. Smith said Region IV is working on a funding application and the total funding for the project would cost about $2.1 million.
Smith complimented the hard work of local rescue and law enforcement agencies during the recent storm.
"We need to commend 9-1-1, EMS, the fire departments, all the police agencies for the outstanding work they have done and are still doing," Smith said. "Friday night, after the storm hit, the sheriff's department, deputies that were on patrol, started patrolling Marlinton with their blue lights on, putting flares out where lines and trees were down and warning people."
Smith said the town was never in jeopardy of losing water.
"We got the generator up and running," said Smith. "We are now supplying water for most of the outlying areas, plus the hospital at Lewisburg, at Fairlea. As long as our water source is strong and we don't have any problems, we need to do things like that. I think there was very little damage done in Marlinton compared to other locations in the county."
Smith said he has started letting other communities borrow the town's big generator from the water plant.
"That's with the understanding that if we lose power, it comes back immediately," said Smith. "Cass got it first, now Hillsboro has it. Whatever few resources we have, I've made available, mainly the backhoe."
Smith said town employees got the cemetery road open Monday morning.
"The cemetery is a war zone," Smith said. "We don't know how much damage was done to the tombstones or anything until we get the trees off them. I've hired two people under the emergency decree to help clean up, for this week only. What I got them doing, is walking the streets and pulling brush and limbs to the curb line. We'll pick up from the curb line and dispose of it. Since the President declared [the state a Federal disaster area], we'll get reimbursed for their salaries."
Cara Rose, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, requested a $500 donation for port-a-potties for the upcoming West Virginia HOG Rally.
"We've been working for about a year to bring the West Virginia HOG rally back to Pocahontas County," said Rose. "It's just about here, they'll be in Pocahontas County July 11th to the 14th. The HOGs will be in Marlinton two of the four days - Thursday for the brunch at the middle school, which is being hosted by the Rotary Club. It's a benefit for the Family Resource Network. Also they'll be here on Saturday, which is the big event."
Rose said she anticipates almost all the participants from the rally to come down from Snowshoe for the entire day on Saturday. She said there will be a parade, live music featuring The Davisson Brothers Band, and a pig roast sponsored by the CVB and Dramas, Fairs and Festivals.
"The benefit will be, these riders will come back on their own, individually, visiting our communities because Pocahontas County has the best riding in West Virginia," Rose said. "Also we will be vying again to invite them back to Pocahontas County next year."
It's been six years since the rally was last in town and Smith said it's always been a success.
"They've been nice events, it brings out a lot of local people," said Smith.
Council members voted unanimously to donate $500 to the CVB for the port-a-potties.
McMann said the garbage and sanitation committee has not made a decision on whether to raise garbage rates in town.
"We don't want to make a recommendation until the county knows what they're doing," explained McMann.
Council members voted to renew the State Police contract with the Town of Marlinton. Smith said the town has had the contract with the State Police for roughly three years now and a monthly report is available for viewing at the Marlinton Municipal Building.
For the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the town received $507.60 from the dog tax for 188 dogs at $6 per dog.
According to Smith, a total of $1,128 was collected, but the funds are split among three entities. The town receives 45 percent, the county receives 45 percent, and the assessor receives 10 percent for the dog tax. Council members voted to donate the money to the Humane Society.
"Please include a little thank you note from the town for what the volunteers do," requested Mutscheller.
Council members discussed the codification of the town's ordinances.
"This particular company is out of Florida," explained Smith. "They have about 40 percent of the municipalities that are codified in West Virginia. This is the company that the Municipal League recommends. I contacted them, they sent us a nice quote with all types of options."
Smith said it would cost $8,950 to take all the ordinances, codify them, put them on the computer, print five hard bound copies, and have every ordinance researched for legal discrepancies. He said all the ordinances would be available online and he personally thinks it's a good thing for the town.
Hernandez said he has been looking forward to this.
"There's an awful lot of people in the community that want to know what the ordinances are," said Hernandez. "Right now, if I wanted to look at the dog ordinance, what was that 16 pages or something? It would cost me $16 to have the girls scan it for me or whatever. To be able to go online, and stop bothering people on the phone, I think this is huge. It gives us that open-government thing that we're missing."
Council members agreed to table the agenda item until next month's meeting.
Smith said it's time for personnel reviews and performance evaluations for the town's 11 employees, and council members had to make the decision whether or not to give pay raises.
Council members also debated whether or not to conduct random monthly drug tests on town employees. Currently the town conducts pre-employment screening, but not random tests.
"I think that'll be money well spent," Barnisky said.
"Be prepared to lose employees," Smith cautioned.