One of the first orders of business at regular meetings of the Putnam County Commission is a request that attendees address the Commission upon any matter which is not included in the agenda for the meeting. On Thursday, February 24, John Webster, a representative of Appalachian Power, addressed the commissioners to give recognition of a letter from the Commission concerning vegetation management in the 5&20 Mile Creek Road area. Webster stated that he had reviewed the history of Appalachian’s forestry management for the area and determined that trimming is scheduled for this year. Webster said that trimming is ongoing on Hurricane Creek Road and that 5&20 is next. Webster stated that most outages were the result of trees that were not in the company’s right-of-way. “Our clearing will take care of any trees within it. As outages occur, we will address those trees out of the right-of-way as it happens,” he said.
EMS Director Craig Barker addressed the Commission concerning pay raises for EMS employees. Barker said that West Virginia has lost 30% of its EMS employees over the last two years and that retention has surfaced as a problem in Putnam County. Paramedic and EMT base pay is $14.50 and $10.25 per hour, respectively. The Commission approve increasing Paramedics to $15.70 and EMTs to $12.70. The increase will become effective on March 6.
The Commission voted to approve the contract for construction of the Confidence 911 tower to Premier Construction Group after learning that Premier was the only bidder to meet all bid requirements. OES/911 Director Mikyle White reported that Telconn, Inc., the low bidder for construction of the Confidence 911 Tower, failed to meet bid specifications because it did not produce the required installation schedule and it went with a drastically different generator than specified. Premier’s bid of $886,685.46 was more than $123,000 higher than Telconn’s. Premier initially submitted a construction bid of $768,341 for the project on July 29, 2021, but that bid was rejected because it was the sole bid.
White presented a picture of the status of existing capabilities of the county’s 911 communication system and a projection of what the system hopes to look like in 2025. White described present coverage as “decent” for 100 watt mobile units. Coverage for 5 watt handheld devices, however, is far less than adequate. White stated than coverage will be expanded when the Confidence 911 tower is completed late this year. Coverage in the Hurricane and Winfield areas will improve when the current towers are replaced with 340-foot towers. White said that the new towers would not provide coverage to 5 watt devices in the Poca River north and Poca River south areas. Handheld device coverage will come to the Poca River area after the current Winfield 180-foot tower is disassembled and relocated to the Lanham area. White reported that the benefits of improved coverage goes beyond 911 coverage. The tower system will go hand in hand with the effort to make fiber optic service available throughout the county.
The Commission received an update from Alan Pritt of Pritt & Spano on the ongoing opioid litigation. Pritt stated that a formula has been established by which settlement funds will be distributed to the counties for specific usages. Usages could include opiod remediation and rehabilitation, jail bill costs and increased first responder costs. Pritt said Putnam would get 1.78% of all money directly awarded to counties and municipalities. Pritt believes that several years of litigation may be necessary to reach a settlement.
The Commission held budget hearings for Parks & Recreation, Libraries, Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, Development Authority, WVU Extension Service, and Putnam County Day Report.
Justin Williams presented the Commission with request that Putnam County Parks & Recreation be funded in the next fiscal year in the same amount as in the current fiscal year at $415,000. Williams stated that he expects a surplus in revenue which will be used to make debt payments. Parks are presently paying $780 per month in interest payments on debts totaling $74,000. Williams told the commissioners that he is seeking additional estimates for the demolition of the waterslide. He has a single estimate of $110,000. The cost of a full repair of the slide has been placed at $250,000.
Megan Tarbett presented a budget request from Putnam County Libraries of $290,000, the same as budgeted in the current fiscal year. Tarbett said that Libraries will receive a small boost in State funding because of Putnam’s population increase documented in the 2020 census.
Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Kelli Steele informed the Commission that her agency was on sound ground as Hotel/Motel tax revenue during the last two quarters is 35% above that collected in the same period last year. Steele reported that collections are 10% above pre-pandemic levels and at a historic high. She said that Convention/Visitors would be increasing its advertising and marketing budget.
Adam Sigmon, chairman of the Putnam County Development Authority, presented a request of $213,000 (same as last year). Sigmon stated that the PCDA is in a position to become more self-sufficient through fundraising efforts. He said PCDA’s new director, Morgan Tinney, has connections which will be valuable in fundraising and advancing development along U.S. 35.
WVU Extension Agent Ben Goff requested an increase of $5,200 from the county for his budget. Goff reported that a grant which funded 40% of the county’s 4-H coordinator’s salary would not be available for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Jamey Hunt, Day Report director, announced that he was asking for $5,000 less than in previous budgets. Hunt said that Day Report was in a position to move forward with two officers. He reported that an increase of salary will be necessary to address officer retention issues. Hunt believes that his agency can continue to do its job with one less officer.
The Commission must approve the county’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022 before the end of March.
In other business, the Commission approved two text amendment changes to the county’s zoning ordinances. Text Amendment 2022-03 incorporates a language change that clearly defines lot size for developers and Amendment 2022-04 changes the definition of Home Occupation such that individuals may buy and sell from their residences using the internet.
The next Commission meeting is Tuesday, March 8.