By Stephen Smoot
Last week, the first order of business for the Pendleton County Commission lay in swearing in new commissioner Roger Dahmer. Dahmer won election to represent the Central District in last month’s election.
After the swearing in the commission went to the first order of business, which was discussion of maintenance costs in specific county buildings. The community building and rescue squad need $2,920 and $900, respectively, to replace old lighting. The rescue squad will receive the cost of labor as a donation. The health department also needs $2,200 for equipment repairs.
During discussion, Commissioner Carl Hevener suggested that they “do it all and be done with it.” The commission agreed and unanimously voted to fund repairs, “especially since they [Lightner’s Electrical, LLC] are donating to the rescue squad,” Hevener said.
Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County emergency services coordinator, informed the commission that a firefighting vehicle was undergoing repairs in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and requested funds to pay the invoice. The county commission elected to tap into Title III funds to cover the bill. Title III funds support local first responders whose area of coverage includes national forest lands.
Additionally, Gillespie reported that Governor Jim Justice’s Next Gen 911 council lost the Eastern Panhandle representative to retirement. Commissioners agreed to pen a letter of recommendation on his behalf recommending that he receive an appointment.
Gillespie also took time to praise Pendleton County 911 dispatchers who “have been inundated with a lot of unusual calls, things we’ve never had before.” He added, “I want to applaud the folks out there. They’ve all done a wonderful job.” Gene McConnell, county commission president, later added “Our 911 dispatchers always do a great job with limited resources.”
Laura Brown, executive director for the Pendleton County Economic and Community Development Authority, announced that Sugar Grove may soon enjoy limited expanded broadband access.
Funding for the expansion comes from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which comes with very specific and federally imposed guidelines for who may be eligible for the service. Brown advised that the county “needs all Sugar Grove residents who want to be connected to be library patrons to be eligible for the school grant.” The funding for service is also limited to a relatively small geographic area and specific addresses, but does include the soon-to-be-constructed biking trails at Sweetwater Farm as of August 2023.
Service limits in part stem from the fact that expanded broadband must connect to lines already in place that terminate in the Sugar Grove region.
Finally, commissioners took up the year-end task of confirming various board appointments and reappointments:
Board of Health – Emily Hott and Carmen Rexrode;
911 Board – Carl Williams;
Board of Parks – Gene Boggs, Kent Gardiner, Rick Wagoner and Pat Waggy;
Building Commission – Jim Brown agreed to stay on until someone replaced him;
EDA – Joan Ashley, Jeremy Harper and Dayne Davis confirmed, but the EDA board is currently at its minimum and needs additional members; and
Farmland Protection Board – Rick Wagoner, but this board also needs more volunteers.
The final board position discussed was the county’s representative on the Northeast Regional EMS Board, or NEREMS. This organization exists to “promote and provide continuing education and info sharing with EMS providers.” Commissioners learned that the NEREMS board “used to be active,” but in recent years had not been. Inquiries from Pendleton County on various issues failed to provide answers. As Gillespie noted, “it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to get a response.” He added that he’d “check and see what its purpose is, if any.”
Tina Eye had suggested that Mike Alt, chief of the Upper Tract Volunteer Fire Department, receive the appointment. Though they rarely meet or act, McConnell said, “this sounds like an opportunity.” Gillespie said that the board could be an avenue to get EMS concerns heard at a higher level.
The county commission also approved a two-hour Christmas luncheon for courthouse staff on Dec. 15. During the luncheon, the offices will be closed.