By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Even though still closed to the public, the Tucker County Commission met on Wednesday, May 13 and could be viewed via Facebook Live for public observation. Reverend Kevin Keplinger opened the meeting with a word of prayer followed by reciting The Pledge of Allegiance. Commission President Lowell Moore called the meeting to order with Commissioners Jon Bush and Fred Davis approving the minutes from April 21.
Moore addressed audience and guests first, beginning with OEM Director Kevin White. His department has been ensuring all first responders and health officials are properly stocked with PPE equipment (personal protective equipment) as well as facilitating the return of used equipment for sterilization. “We have been holding our county meetings weekly and that has been a phone call from all our stakeholders and it’s been going very well,” White explained which is how a lot of the proper information is being broadcasted across all entities. “It’s not a time to become complacent with this situation and assume that it’s probably over with because it is not,” he stated. With the reopening of businesses and facilities beginning, more precautions need to be taken to prevent more positive cases. “West Virginia is looking pretty good compared to other counties and states,” White said, “but don’t drop the ball just yet.”
White was asked by commissioners to provide a brief overview of what Governor Justice has coined “Hero Pay”. “A very, very touchy and sensitive subject in most places,” he admitted. There is a lot of confusion between what was said compared to what was put into writing and ordered to the County Commissioners. White read part of the directive, listing some of the areas that are covered in this order. “These block grant funds are not meant to back the local budget or pay ordinary expenditures of counties and municipalities, rather these block grant funds are meant to help pay extraordinary expenses being incurred in a response to COVID-19 Pandemic,” he read. This includes items such as overtime pay for law enforcement officers, first responders, and paramedics and costs of PPE. A list of itemized expenses must be provided for proof of expenditures. “I know there’s a lot of questions out there about what the county is going to do with that, I cannot speak for the county commissioners, but I can tell you they are working on putting a plan in place right now,” he added. Moore thanked White and added, “There are numerous questions out there so far with no answers, and we’re still waiting on answers.” As of the previous Friday, the State Auditor’s Office was still working on guidelines of things it can be used for.
James Snyder of the Tucker County Health Department took the floor with a county statistics update. “In the county so far, we’ve tested 95 residents, of those 95 we’ve had 88 that we’re negative, four that were positive, and those four have recovered,” he began. “The positive number never goes away in a county process, it stays there, but those four have been released.” In addition to those numbers, 244 residents and staff of Cortland Acres were also tested, all of which returned negative. “We are not done with this yet,” Snyder reiterated. As many things are attempting to reopen and achieve a sense of normalcy, he has concern some residents will slack on taking precautions which could return the spike in numbers. He shared some counties are seeing positive cases increase as businesses reopen. “Once we start to open up and once we start to gather more, we’re allowing people in and out, we’re probably going to see more cases and we’re definitely going to be more at risk,” Snyder said. “It is very important to do the same things we’ve been doing, we need to be wearing our masks, we need to be doing our social distancing, washing our hands, we need to be very proactive about this and following the guidelines out there,” he added. It is understood many do not like wearing the masks, however he has been informed of individuals working within proximity of those testing positive of COVID-19, but due to wearing a face covering they did not infect those nearby. “That shows the masks do help so we need to be wearing them,” he stated.
Snyder was asked how long this was expected to continue, but unfortunately no one has that answer. The reason the numbers are as good as they are within the state are due to following the guidelines, which needs to continue. “West Virginia, by percentage, we have tested more people in West Virginia than any state in the nation by percentage, so that’s very good,” he confirmed. Within Tucker County, anyone who met criteria to be tested has been tested including all those within the nursing home and now those involved in day cares. Every county within the United States was rated on how prepared they were for COVID-19, and Tucker County finished in the top five within the state.
New guidelines are coming out as the state continues reopening, which the Health Department is working diligently on sharing with the public. Beginning on May 23, dine in options at restaurants will be permissible; however, they can only operate at a 50% capacity. “There are a lot of strict guidelines that they have to follow to do that,” confirmed Snyder. State Parks are opening their campgrounds but only to in-state campers, the Hatfield and McCoy Trail, and large specialty retail stores are also on the list. “I know that Monday, the Courthouse here is planning to open, we’ve given them guidance using all the other documents that are laws, recommendations, and executive orders,” Snyder explained.
Commissioner Davis asked if the dine in options were opened to all customers, in and out of state residents, which Snyder stated that, to his understanding, as of May 21 the Executive Order requiring those from out of state or traveling out of state must self quarantine 14 days will be lifted. This would allow for any patrons to take advantage of the reopening of the businesses.
Snyder stated again, the mass gathering limits are still 25 though he has major concern for the fast approaching Memorial Day Weekend and what may follow with potential cases. Even within the realm of 25 individuals, keeping at least a six foot distance between each one is of upmost importance. “The 14 days after Memorial Day Weekend are very frightening for me,” he said. Continuing to check employee health is crucial as the reopening continue as well.
“The thing about it is, I was guilty in the beginning comparing it (COVID-19) so much to flu, and there are several similarities to the flu but there are a lot of differences,” Snyder admitted. “This is a very deadly virus and we need to do everything we can do to protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our loved ones,” he said.
Snyder has been working closely with the Tucker County Board of Education to plan a safe TCHS Graduation Ceremony for the 2020 seniors as well as working with Tucker County Clerk Sherry Simmons on proceeding with election festivities.
Mark Holstein, Executive Director of the Solid Waste Authority and acting chair at the Tucker County Landfill provided a brief update. “We’ve got some good progress with the financial situation at the facility,” he began. Access to the construction and equipment escrow has been granted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) as well as allowing the landfill to refrain from submitting funds into that account for six months. “What this does of course is frees up some operating revenue for us to do some immediate repair to the facility and address some of the issues that we’ve been having and complaints that we have been having here recently with odor, specifically effecting the town of Davis,” he said. Work is being conducted to rectify these issues. Holstein stated that the PSC staff has recommended approval of the proposed rate case that the Tucker County SWA has filed, though the commission has yet to issue an order to that effect. This is still a promising step moving forward with the improvements at the landfill; therefore, preparations have begun to secure a contract to build the next cell.
As with everywhere, COVID-19 is having an impact on the landfill. “I can tell you that tonnage last month was up, it wasn’t up significantly, but it was up and it was probably a reflection of people being home and finding ways to clean up or do whatever around the house,” Holstein said. Free day tonnage was approximately double the typical amount with 234 customers coming through during the last event. “We took almost 50 tons of trash on free day and for whatever reason, and I’m still perplexed by this, we took 615 tires on free day which was an astronomical number,” he added. “The month before, we took 444 tires, so in two months we’ve taken over 1,000 tires at the landfill on free day.” The near future will bring discussion on how to address the intake of tires with potentially partnering with the DEP and REAP program.
Elected Officials Reports began with information relating to the upcoming primary election by Tucker County Clerk Sherry Simmons. This information can be found in another article with in depth details relating to all election festivities.
Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Moats shared with the commissioners that they are scheduled for their first hearings upon returning from the stay at home order on May 29. Prosecuting Attorney Ray LaMora added to that of Moats. “We have a lot of cases that we really need to get through,” he began. “We are going to be following all of the recommendations of the Health Department and CDC,” he stated. Hearings will be conducted slightly differently than usual and LaMora asks that anyone with an upcoming hearing to reach out to their attorneys to become aware of the protocol. The rooms provided for brief discussions and meetings will be closed, therefore other arrangements to meet with clients and representing counsel will need to be made. “If anybody has a question about procedure, if anybody has a question about contacting their attorney’s, please contact my office, I’m happy to get you in contact with your attorney if you’re struggling with that,” LaMora concluded. To reach the office of LaMora, callextension 203.
County Planner Dennis Filler briefed commissioners, beginning by saying, “On the census, our current numbers for Tucker County are 31.3%, so we are still well below the state average,” he began. Filler will be reaching out to the census representative to determine what the next step of the process will be. One upcoming step will be for workers to visit each home to either ensure a census has been submitted or assist in doing so. One issue is thought to be the high usage of post office boxes versus physical addresses. The census is extremely easy to complete and important for the county. www.my2020census.gov can be used to fulfill this duty even without a census ID number. The public libraries will be reopening next week where public computers can be used for this task as well as assistance by the staff available.
White added that the Fire Departments and Law Enforcements also depend highly on the accurate count from each census. “If we don’t get counted, the Fire Department actually will have trouble getting grants and funding sometimes through certain projects,” he added. Moore stressed the importance of completing the census and asks the citizens to complete theirs.
This meeting had no correspondences, county board appointments, or road names to discuss. New business began with the guidelines set for reopening the Tucker County Courthouse on Monday, May 18. Snyder took the floor once more to explain the protocol set forth in attempt to decrease the chance of spreading COVID-19. If you need to visit the Courthouse, here is what you can expect. Each office will have installed a spray barrier between the staff and public, hand sanitizer or other means of disinfectants will be provided, each office will be limited to two individuals from the public at a time, six foot social distancing markers will be placed on the floor, and all visitors must wear a face covering. Signs will be posted at all entry points with a list of symptoms that if guests are experiencing, they will not be permitted to enter the building.
Snyder continued to state that in the case a six foot separation between employees or the public cannot be maintained, staff must wear a face covering as well. In the situation where an employee is in their office alone, it is safe to remove the mask, but upon entering of other individuals it needs to be replaced. Prior to entering the workplace, employees will be required to self administer a health screening. If employees do not meet the health requirements, they will be asked to leave. The staff will also be required to undergo training as well as properly disinfect their office space per instruction.
Moving on with the agenda, a resolution was read for the county grant funds, though it was reiterated that many questions are still being asked about these funds and answers are being sought. A request to modify the 2020 calendar was made due to the change in Election Day being changed to June 9 with agreement by all. It was also suggested to cancel the May 27 meeting due to early voting as well as the June 10 meeting due to being the day after Election Day. Moore made the motion with agreement by all. The next Tucker County Commission meeting will be slated for Jun 17 at 9 a.m.
Three erroneous assessments were presented and approved as well as the payments. Commissioner’s reports began with Moore explaining the levy rate that was voted upon last meeting. “The levy rate is the tax rate that is put on your taxed property,” Moore said. Those presented at the last meeting were for Class two residential properties at 14.30 cents per $100 of assessed value. “That is a recommendation of the State Auditor’s Office,” he said. Class four, which classifies as automobiles and rental property, was set to 28.60 cents per $100 of assessed value. Questions also arose as to why the meeting was held on a Tuesday rather than the traditional Wednesday of the County Commission. “The State Auditor’s mandates that all 55 counties meet on the third Tuesday of every April, and that’s why it was on Tuesday and not Wednesday, and after that date Sherry (Simmons) has three days to submit it to the State Auditor’s Office,” Moore further explained.
Moore then said, “I want everybody to know that the County Commission of Tucker County and the County Courthouse designates May as Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and I want to tell you I take a special interest in that.” He listed several individuals he personally knows who has become victim of a brain tumor bringing this recognition very close to heart for Moore.
Bush did not have any updates at this time bringing Davis to say, “On the HERO pay, on our county commission webpage a lot of questions could be answered.” He continued, “We’re all still learning about it, like Kevin White said earlier, we’re just going to try to do the money correctly.”
This concluded the Tucker County Commission meeting which is set to meet again on Wednesday, June 17 at 9 a.m. As a reminder, the Courthouse will be closed on the evening of Election Day.