By Stephen Smoot
With Governor Jim Justice touting impressive numbers for state tourism last week, the Pendleton County Commission wasted no time in pushing for the establishment of a county convention and visitors’ bureau separated from the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
Pendleton County Commission President Gene McConnell explained that “the CVB had been integrated with the Chamber of Commerce, which was not ideal.” McConnell then listed some of the issues with the two entities as a joint venture. It married a state with a private entity, which created special issues, such as the need to prevent co-mingling of funds.
Convention and visitors’ bureaus rely on lodging taxes for support, while chambers of commerce take responsibility for their own funding.
McConnell explained why the commission needed to act urgently to establish an independent CVB, explaining that “the state is making an enormous investment in tourism” and “we need to jump on that and do what we can to further the cause.”
Part of “furthering the cause” lay in building a strong partnership between the new CVB and the Pendleton County Economic and Community Development Authority and providing a “functional work environment” for both entities.
McConnell also proposed that the county augment costs such as salaries by $60,000 per year. He explained that some counties rake in millions from the hotel and motel tax, using the funds to pay competitive salaries. Since Pendleton County does not produce lodging tax revenues on the level of Jefferson, Kanawha, or Randolph, it cannot fund salaries of staff sufficiently just through the taxes collected.
The proposal passed unanimously.
Commissioners also decided to approve a list of CVB board members and set a time for them to meet. The list includes Stephanie Huffman, Janice Lantz, Jeff Munn, Bryan Williams, Sam Wood and Sam Yokum. The CVB’s initial meeting was on Sept. 27, but details of it were unavailable at press time.
One of the first orders of business will lie in recruiting an executive director. McConnell mentioned that the appointed membership “hits all tourism sectors with four involved in lodging.” Also the Town of Franklin could choose to appoint a member at any time.
Finally, the county commission provided direction on the focus of the CVB that played to Pendleton County’s unique advantages. “We have an initiative for rock climbing that makes sense,” McConnell explained. He went on to say that “The rest of the state does not have rock climbing facilities like we do.”
Laura Brown, executive director of the PCEDA, updated the county commission on efforts to secure more grant funding for broadband expansion. The first round of GigReady grant money did not include Pendleton, nor any other Potomac Highlands county. She explained that most money in the first round of awards went to Greenbrier County.
“We’re hoping for an award in round two,” Brown explained. She added “we’re still working for ECF, too.” The Emergency Connectivity Fund grants come from the Federal Communications Commission and support educational facilities, such as schools and libraries.
Rick Gillespie, emergency service coordinator, also updated the county commission on the ongoing discussion concerning the community building generator. The county will compare the costs of rebuilding the unit in place versus purchasing a functioning used model. Workers had determined that the failure lay in the injectors and plans were sent off to establish the total cost needed to repair the generator.
Gillespie indicated that he did not know exactly how long since the broken generator had last been in service, but quipped that it had been in place so long that “it could apply for a pension.”
Finally, the county commission approved poll worker names, noting that compensation recently rose to $25 for the day of training and $200 for working on Election Day.
The next county commission meeting shall take place on Oct. 4 at the courthouse.