By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
David Koritko, the new principal at Tucker County High School, introduced himself to the county commissioners at their recent meeting. He noted that the school used to be involved with a lot of activities and projects, such as building houses, that are no longer in practice and he would like to see that changed. Koritko comes from a long line of farmers dating back to 1760 and stated, “I’m really excited about being here.” He attended West Virginia University, has served as a Cheat River Guide, and most recently has been a Director of STEM for the National Youth Science Foundation.
With a start date of July 1, Koritko hit the ground running and has a goal of meeting those throughout the county to form partnerships. Secondly, he wishes to form good working relationships with the teachers and staff throughout the school system and also build academic success with the students. “Our scores are not the best so that needs to be worked on,” he explained but also recognizes the need to ensure physical, social, and emotional well being of the students.
“My goals are to rebrand the high school, it’s time that we market ourselves in a different way to obtain money,” said Koritko. He has worked with Microsoft in the past which could result in a funding resource, however he feels more work needs to be done beforehand. Integrating the parents and the community is another goal as well as working through transitioning into the new normal as a result of the virus.
Focusing on the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program is high on Koritko’s priority list and hopefully bringing back programs such as band and building the theater group. Utilizing facilities and businesses within the county is a strong desire that he hopes to bring to TCHS to make high school the best years of a student’s life. Integrity, innovation, trust, inclusion, accountability, community, and excellence are all values Koritko plans to instill in his high school students. Davis commented he would love to see more funding for programs such as agriculture, which Koritko agreed but fears the school is not ready to seek out a lot of the bigger contributors such as Microsoft.
Debbie Chapman and the group from Holly Meadows Golf Course came to speak with the County Commission on recent happenings on the course. She recognized the volunteers who have worked diligently to keep the area in pristine condition. President Tom Gutshall spoke briefly to explain the renovations made to the club house and the improvements thanks to the tournaments held as fundraisers. Volunteer Jack Crosten showed photos on the updates and invited the commissioners to stop by and see in person. “I cannot thank these people enough,” Gutshall stated in reference to the volunteers.
Commissioner Fred Davis has been golfing at Holly Meadows for several years and acknowledged how well the course is being maintained. Chapman stated that there is only one full time employee and two part time employees and the rest of the work is conducted by volunteers who take pride in one of the few attractions on the Parsons side of the county for tourists. Chapman also explained that the Tucker County High School Golf Team uses the facility for free as a way to support them. Gutshall added the course is welcoming to any and all golfers, of all ages and abilities, which is unique with a lot of the golf course atmospheres.
Daniele Wilfong was present on behalf of the Tucker County Fair, which as of now, is still taking place with a modified schedule. The Fair Board felt that with the events being held outside, adequate social distancing measures could be practiced. Hand washing stations and sanitizer will be spread across the grounds and masks will be available. “I’m here requesting some money for advertisement for the fair,” said Wilfong. She requested double the amount as last year, however less than half of what was received that year, which was $500. Wilfong asked the Commission for $1,500 to cover the remaining advertising costs, which would include being put on the radio, a two hour broadcast at the fair, and posted on the radio station’s website.
County Clerk Sherry Simmons explained that the funding request would have to be on the next meeting agenda, which is July 22. “That is when we do our budget revision for any type of roll over money,” she continued, however that line item had to be cut out of the general county budget in order to balance. Simmons requested Wilfong submit the necessary request to appear on that agenda so it can be addressed at that meeting.
James Snyder with the Tucker County Health Department provided his COVID-19 update. “Of course everybody knows the mandatory mask requirement now in public places,” he began. “I think it’s a move that I’m glad that happened in light of everything that is going on right now.” Snyder stated that COVID is worse now than ever and fears it will continue down this path. “Yesterday the United States set a new record for total cases of over 60,000 new cases,” Snyder continued. “In West Virginia, we’ve been hovering very low on our numbers, they are steadily climbing.” Over the weekend there were over 200 new cases and they’re continuing to increase.
“We need people to really stick to the facts and the truth,” he stated asking people to follow reliable resources, such as the Health Department’s and Center of Controlled Disease (CDC). The mortality rate for COVID-19 has surpassed that of the flu with a 1.3 versus 0.1 for the flu. “The numbers are rising everywhere,” Snyder said. He encourages everyone to wear the masks, stating, “The masks do work.” A vaccine nor treatment is available as of this time therefore all precautions need to be taken. “The more we come together the more our risk is,” he added. An increase is being noted with individuals between 25 and 30 due to the lack of social distancing and wearing of masks. This age group also has significantly more contacts which increases the rate of spread.
Testing is being offered throughout the county and it is encouraged for everyone to be tested. Issues are arising in the labs due to the significant amount of testing being performed with fear that the amount of testing being allowed will be reduced. Snyder and others are working diligently to ensure testing can continue.
Davis asked about the county events such as the Tucker County Fair and Pickin’ in Parsons and the risks they possess. Snyder responded that W.Va. Governor Jim Justice has allowed for fairs and festivals to be held, however the coordinators are monitoring the situations and regulations. “Me, personally, as the health department, I’m scared to death over the fair, bluegrass, any mass gathering, churches, they all concern me because anytime we come together, we increase the risk of exposure,” he proclaimed. Being that people can have COVID and not show symptoms allows infected individuals to go undetected by the temperature screenings and questionnaires.
Stan Dragovich was present on behalf of the Leadmine CERT Team to request five radios to aid in their communication and knowledge of incoming first responders. This would assist them in being prepared to stop traffic before responders arrive so the roadways will be clear. “I think they’re $202,” he stated, which could not be covered with fundraisers due to COVID canceling all their events. Commission President Lowell Moore told Dragovich that he needed to fill out the request form so this too would go on the agenda for the next meeting so the commissioners could vote on the item.
Employee reports began with County Administrator Sheila DeVilder advising that the bid opening to perform the brick restoration work was held on June 24 with Wilson Restoration having the lowest quote. “This will complete the brick restoration for the courthouse,” said DeVilder. The next grant is due in October and, if successful, will be applied towards the brick restoration around the old jailhouse.
DeVilder has submitted nearly $4,300 worth of expenses to the Care Act with approval of around $2,000 to date. Reimbursement requests can be submitted until December and all costs relating to COVID can be considered. The courthouse security grant was set to be awarded in mid June, however has been delayed. The quote has been granted an extension as well and will remain valid until the closing date. Autopay for the EMS system is also being investigated in the near future to see if it is compatible with the server. Moore thanked DeVilder for her diligence in seeking grants for the county and stated, “We really appreciate that Sheila, you have been very beneficial.”
Beverly Cantrell addressed the commissioners on behalf of 911, met with Micrologic though a proposal still has not been received. “That will be for a new tower and our microwave system,” said Cantrell. Another quote was received and submitted to the commissioners for a new paging system. She has been working to catch up on GPS coordinates for all the addresses within the county and putting them into the W.Va. state mapping system. Research is being conducted on companies to provide text options for call outs as well.
Kevin White, OEM Director, elaborated on Cantrell’s comment on the potential texting system. “That is a very important component to all the responders in Tucker County,” he confirmed. White also has been continuing the work on COVID and provided the commissioners with a detailed report. “We are continuing to have our meetings,” he stated that keeps everyone involved and the proper information being conveyed. He also explained that a lot of the counties are not providing the regular testing that is going on in Tucker County. “We’re very fortunate to have that on our side,” he confirmed.
It has been discussed to start a responding entity of preparing for Corridor H to ensure all responding agencies are properly trained and ready. White asked the commissioners to attend a meeting to begin the process to do so.
“Our new shelter trailer is in,” White continued, which is currently situated behind the Fire Department. Once the anchoring issues are addressed at the city lot for the shelter, it will be relocated to that area. The truck was on the assembly line last week and will be taken back to the dealership to have the accessories added before it comes to the county.
The stream cleanup program staff met with White recently and work will begin hopefully within the next week. There are approximately 30 streams on the list that the workers will be working to remove debris so in the case of future events it should not be as harmful. It is hopeful that the program can become a year around event that would continually help the county and employee the cleanup crews.
Tucker County Animal Shelter Director Bailey Falls explained all COVID precautions are in place and all staff, volunteers, and public are provided masks. “Kitten season is in full swing,” Falls stated and four colonies of feral cats are being worked on to spay, neuter, and adopt the kittens out and return the adults. All fundraising opportunities have gone virtual which has been challenging and as of now, rabies clinics are unscheduled.
“We have not been transporting out to rescues because most of our rescues are out of state so we’re focusing on adoptions in the county and when we’re doing adoptions outside the county we’re being really careful with COVID,” explained Falls. Adoptions are up which is believed to be due to people being home more. The shelter is also working with the Energy Express program on July 22 through a virtual learning event.
County Planner Dennis Filler stated that the transfer of the phone system at the courthouse from the old system to the new has not been going well. Conversations have been engaged with congressional representatives to get the numbers released so they can be installed. “My concern is that I will not let this thing go forward until I can guarantee that I can maintain safety, security, and basic governmental functions without loss of our communications system,” Filler stated. There are approximately 40 numbers that need transferred from the analog system to the new digital system.
New business began with the appointment of a new fiduciary commissioner for the White Estate. Initially, Brent Easton was assigned to the case; however, he has resigned from that position. Commissioner Jon Bush made a motion to approve John Wallace to fill that role with all in favor.
The Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) Grant is being sought to replace the election equipment for the county. “It goes hand in hand with the Disabilities Act,” explained Simmons. The current equipment is 18 years old and becoming problematic. The paper ballots will be kept for as 99% of the voters utilizing this option and the counting machine works without issues. “The problem is with the ivotronic machines being 20 years old,” she said. The HAVA grant will pay 50% but the county must match the additional 50%. “To replace the equipment that we need to supply to be in HAVA compliance at every precinct will cost $141,000,” she explained.
Simmons fully understands the financial situation and concerns facing the county at this time, but has to be in compliance with the federal laws. “Well, if the government will pay half of it, it’s the best option we have,” responded Moore. The new equipment will not be in place in time for the November election, but once the new equipment is received the old will be turned back in which offers a discount. Moore moved to approve the applying for the grant with all commissioners in agreement.
The hiring of two, full time employees for the 911 Center as dispatchers was discussed.
The commissioners reviewed the state coal severance budget revisions were reviewed with an ending balance of $11,885 and acknowledged by all commissioners.
A bid by Wilson Restoration was received for the brick work to finish the Courthouse. Moore moved to approve the quote and Bush and Davis were in favor.
One erroneous assessment and payment of bills were approved as presented.
Moore moved to enter into Executive Session to discuss personnel. Upon return, it was moved to hire two, full time 911 dispatchers, Camey Nestor and Derek Slewinski, both under a six month probationary period.
The next meeting of the commissioners will be on Wednesday, July 22 at 4 p.m.