By Stephen Smoot
On Jan. 17, the Pendleton County Commission held its second regular meeting of the month. Roger Dahmer, county commissioner, opened the meeting with a prayer requesting “the wisdom to make the right decisions,” and to best “serve the people.”
The meeting opened with Rebecca McConnell delivering a report on the Pendleton County Library accomplishments, activities, and needs in 2022. She shared “great concerns” over Governor Jim Justice reducing the state’s library authority from a Cabinet position and placing it under the West Virginia Department of Arts, History, and Culture, currently led by Secretary Randall Reid-Smith. This department also oversees the State Archives, state museums, and more.
McConnell additionally worried that tax cuts could prevent libraries across the state from receiving added funding. She also expressed fears that a bill running through the Legislature could mandate online payments. “We cannot afford to add that to what we do,” she explained, but added that a waiver could likely be obtained for the county library.
The library remained active in the community throughout 2022. McConnell reported that “we do tons of things for the school system,” including sending requested books to facilities all over the county. “We’re working with the EDA on a broadband project.” McConnell added, “We’re ready to hit the ground at least at one end of it.”
McConnell went on to describe the summer reading program, the Christmas ornament party, and more events that got young and old alike involved.
The library also worked on upgrades. Senators Bill Hamilton and Robert Karnes secured funds to get the library a new technology friendly front counter. Also, Hardy County will give six computer stations to Pendleton County after they purchase new ones. The library has experienced water seeping into the basement recently and hopes that the source can be found soon.
McConnell ended by describing a “project from hell,” involving shelving ordered a year ago. Delays kept them from being installed until recently.
Next, commissioners heard the emergency services report from Rick Gillespie. He described that the 911 center was currently “in the midst of an upgrade.” Most of the equipment is in place and ready for installation. The 911 center on Jan. 17 shut down for three hours, transferring calls to Grant County while the system was put in place.
Gillespie also warned of the need to upgrade the “homemade” phone system because it currently limits outside calls and other facility capabilities. He said they need $10,000 to $12,000 to do it right, adding “it’s there in the bank, so to speak. Let’s make it the kind of operation that it needs to be.”
Commissioners and Gillespie discussed emergency communications as well. Gillespie drafted a letter for commissioners to sign regarding the National Radio Quiet Zone that covers parts of Pendleton and Pocahontas counties. He noted that “limits for the proposed tower site in Seneca Rocks have gone from good to bad.” With the Department of Defense budget covering new missions for the Green Bank Observatory, the fear is that “everlasting” regulations that “don’t come without a cost to the community,” could get set in place. Lack of cellular phone service in the North Fork region prevents ambulances from being able to forward potentially life-saving information ahead to the hospital. “The National Radio Quiet Zone is an inhibitor,” Gillespie stated. “It’s strangling us and we go more to those kinds of devices.”
The county commission went on to discuss possible grant funding to fix the parking lot at the community building. Gillespie suggested that federal infrastructure funds could help to pay for the project. He said that a paving company contracted with the state had provided a rough estimate of $350,000, but admitted that the cost could currently have risen to $500,000. Laura Brown, Pendleton County Economic Development Authority director, suggested that the county go through Region 8 to apply for grant funding.
Fixing the parking lot will cost more because the ground has failed underneath, leaving mud and pools of water. Drains for the lot will also require repair. Gillespie said, “I know the county doesn’t have the money to do it,” but also stated that “it does not portray a good image for the county.”