By Ken Bustin
The Pendleton County Commissioners were each wearing two hats at their meeting on February 1st. That day had been designated as the first day the board would meet as the Board of Review and Equalization of Pendleton County. The task of that entity is to review and equalize the assessments established by the assessor. Taxpayers who believe that their assessments are unfair may bring their case before the Board of Review and Equalization for review, and any adjustment that the board may determine is equitable.
However, there were no appointments scheduled for that date, so Commissioner Carole Hartman promptly made a motion to adjourn that session. That motion passed unanimously.
The next meeting of the Board of Review and Equalization was scheduled for Monday, February 7.
With that business finished, Commission President Gene McConnell called the regular session to order. All three commissioners were present.
The minutes of the Commission’s last session, held on January 18, were approved as written without discussion or amendment, by a unanimous vote.
At the top of the agenda was the maintenance report. County Administrator Karen Pitsenbarger told the Commissioners that Eddie Simpson had submitted drawings and an estimate for contemplated changes to the courtroom in the court reporter’s area and the lawyers’ tables. However, Commissioner Carl Hevener moved to approve only the changes to the court reporter’s area, and that motion passed unanimously. The Commission set aside the other changes to review at a later date.
At a recent meeting, the Commission had directed Pitsenbarger to solicit bids for a GMC truck and plow which was being retired. She reported that interest had been substantial, and that seven bids had been received. They ranged from $2,651.95 to $4,000, the latter figure one which Pitsenbarger, the Commissioners, and others in the room remarked on as surprisingly good. Hevener lost little time in moving to accept the $4,000 bid and the motion quickly passed with a unanimous vote.
Conservation District Supervisor Charlotte Hoover and Watershed Manager Don Whetzel gave the Commission a brief update on the condition of the dams in Pendleton County. They expressed their appreciation for the financial support provided by the Commission and asked for their continued support.
The Commission inquired as to the status of the 713U contract which had been signed in the fall of 2021, and Whetzel agreed to follow up on it and report his findings to Hevener or Emergency Management Services Director Bruce Minor.
McConnell called on 911 Director Diana Mitchell for her report. Mitchell told the Commission that an ad for part-time dispatchers was scheduled to run in the newspaper that week, and would be run for a total of three weeks. She said one full-time dispatcher is scheduled to retire at the end of March. Coleen Miller, who is currently a part-time dispatcher, will go to full time to fill that position. Mitchell said, if possible, she would like to find at least three more dispatchers. She said that, although the job is not an easy one, it was amazing to see a new person begin the training with anxiety – “convinced they can’t do it” – and see far they progress.
“We’ve got to stay ahead of the curve, or we’ll be in serious trouble,” opined Emergency Management Services Coordinator Rick Gillespie about the need to recruit more candidates. He suggested doing a job fair at the high school, and Pendleton County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Laura Brown pointed out that there was a Career Day scheduled for February 18 and Gillespie indicated that he would investigate being part of it.
Gillespie also reported that the new pagers, approved at a recent commissioners meeting, had arrived.
He reminded the commissioners that a request for a 911 emergency call system, which it was hoped could be paid for from ARPA funds, had been tabled at a recent meeting.
Moving on to the next agenda item, a broadband report, Brown updated the Commission on recent progress. All of the application for the West Virginia broadband grants have been submitted, she said, as well as a response to a request for additional information concerning one of the applications. Brown said that the application process had sometimes turned out to be a lot more work than originally imagined. A request for additional information, she said, had taken the form of nine questions, which those preparing the grant application at first had thought would be easy. But, as it turned out, answering just one of those questions had required 85 pages. Most of that task, she said, had been accomplished by Lingo Networks, who is to be the service provider for that extension if the grant is approved, and she praised them for their efforts.
That project, the subject of the original ECF grant application, made by a consortium of Pendleton Schools and the Pendleton County Library, which EDA had assisted in the preparation of, was still under active review, but a decision was expected soon. Hartman asked if the ECF grant covered “new build” and Brown replied that it did. McConnell observed that time was getting short, as the grant conditions had required that all of the work be completed by June 30. Brown expressed optimism about the prospects of that application’s approval, noting that it was the only application made to ECF for a fiber build in the West Virginia. With a satisfied nod of her head, she noted that, in the past year, Pendleton County has applied for a total of $6.3 million in broadband grants.
She said attention would next be turned to a feasibility study for additional projects, to be conducted by consultant Thrasher Engineering.
The County’s COVID State of Emergency Compensation Policy, which has allowed for paid sick leave for COVID-related events for county employees, will be discontinued, effective February 1, after a unanimous vote authorizing the action. Pitsenbarger noted that there was one employee currently on sick leave with a COVID-related issue, and McConnell clarified that, since it began prior to the change, it would be covered under the current policy until it was concluded.
The deteriorated condition of the parking lot at the Pendleton Community Building was the subject of Hartman’s next comments. She observed that it is in very poor condition and needed attention.
“Does anyone else feel we should be looking into repairing this?” she asked.
“I don’t,” replied McConnell, adding, “It’s in the flood plain.”
“Everything but the courthouse is in the flood plain,” countered Hartman, again expressing her thought that the problem needed to be addressed.
But McConnell questioned the wisdom of such an expenditure. He felt that its location in the flood plain was likely to be the source of periodic recurring problems in the future. It would be better, he felt, to find a tract of land which was not in the flood plain and build a new structure, to which the community building and fire and rescue departments could be moved. Previous efforts had only been a “band-aid,” he observed, because there they were back in the same situation again.
Gillespie observed that the problems were severe, and the only proper solution would involve excavating the entire lot, perhaps raising its grade, and building a new roadbed and then repaving. Previous efforts, he noted, had been unsuccessful because the engineer on the project hadn’t taken the grade into account. It hadn’t been poor workmanship, but rather a poor design. “The contractor did what the engineer said,” he said.
“The problem is how do you drain a flat surface?” observed McConnell.
“The building should have been two feet higher,” opined Gillespie. He noted that FEMA sometimes offers grants from time to time for such projects, but noted “… we need the land first.” He suggested that they should explore finding a suitable tract of land.
McConnell agreed. “I don’t like the idea of putting $2 million into a flood plain,” he said, observing that it would likely be more difficult to find federal grant money for anything in the flood plain.
In the end, there was no action, but it was informally resolved to begin looking for a suitable piece of land.
A review of the ARPA fund balance revealed that, taking into account additional funds which are to be received and the expenditures and allocations which have already been made, there is $279,151.97 remaining. After considering this information, Hartman moved that the Commission approve the requested Wi-fi upgrades at the community building and the 911 Center, for $11,457, and also the upgrade of the 911 emergency call system, which has been estimated to cost about $86,000, from the remaining available ARPA funds. It received the concurrence of the other two commissioners and passed unanimously.
Observing how quickly projects had been found to spend the ARPA money, McConnell, quoting the late Senator Everett Dirksen, quipped, “A billion here and a billion there.”
The Medical Emergency Absentee Voting Policy was approved, without extensive discussion and with all in favor.
The third general county budget revision for fiscal year 2022 was approved unanimously. McConnell asked County Clerk Elise White if the financial picture was “looking good”? White replied that it was, terming it “…a lot better than ever.”
The Commission received and reviewed the sheriff’s monthly financial report. Since that report is independently audited, no action to approve it was necessary.
There were no fiduciary appointments to be made, and no exonerations requested. Two estate settlements were reviewed and approved unanimously.
As its final act, the Commission reviewed and approved payment of the bills.
The next regular meeting of the Pendleton County Commission is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, February 15, at the Commission office in the Pendleton County Courthouse.