By Cassady Rosenblum
The Tucker County Commission meeting began with a presentation by Aimee Verdisco of the Canaan Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Verdisco, on behalf of all fire departments and Emergency Medical Services in Tucker County, is applying for a grant from FEMA that would give Tucker County a set of new radios. According to the federal government, said Verdisco, the radios that Tucker County currently employs are well past their shelf life by several years. “They’re the Star Wars type,” Fire Chief Bob Metzger added. The commissioners voted to support Verdisco’s “firefighter assistance” application, and signaled its willingness to supply the five percent match required by the grant. As Verdisco explained, for $64,000 dollars of taxpayer money, the grant would provide a value of over one million dollars to the county. “She’s got a PhD in economics and no you can’t have her,” said Metzger.
Next, Metzger gave a report on how the Canaan Valley Public Service District is using the $314,500 thousand dollars worth of American Rescue Plan money that the county commission awarded it in September. Metzger reported that they’ve been using the money to perform water infrastructure maintenance that had been ignored by the previous stewards, Timberline Four Seasons Utility. “It’s been a pain,” admitted Metzger. “It’s been fun, but it’s been a pain.”
In 2018, recalled Metzger, the county lost “thousands and thousands” of tourist dollars due to a series of boil water advisories. “People don’t want to haul bottled water to their vacation rental,” Metzger said. In 2019, the court placed Timberline Four Seasons into receivership, and designated Canaan Valley PSD the receiver. For this reason, the county has prioritized giving the Canaan Valley PSD what it needs to fix its water issues. As County Commissioner Fred Davis has emphasized before, water problems lead to a drop-off in tourism which leads to a drop in the county’s six percent hotel/motel occupancy tax, which funds county-wide services such as Parks and Recreation, Fire and Emergency Services, and the Cultural District Authority. Now thanks to improvements the ARP money has facilitated, reported Metzger, Canaan Valley PSD can now often finish pumping enough water for the Timberline area before noon, whereas it used to take them well into the evening.
County employees gave their reports. Sheriff Kopec reported 106 calls or walk-ins during the month of November, and one felony arrest leading to an indictment. Director of Tucker County’s Homeland Security, Kevin White, reported that more than 18% of the county has tested positive for COVID-19 at some point over the course of the pandemic, and continued to urge vaccines and boosters for residents. Administrator Shelia DeVilder reported renovations to the county jail are now complete, and prosecutor Savannah Wilkins reported that two long-term county inmates, Jeremy Watson and Melissa Waybright, have now been transferred out of the jail, with Watson released for time served, and Waybright sentenced to 10-50 years in state prison for child abuse. “I was excited about that,” remarked Wilkins of Waybright.
Sherry Simmons, Tucker County Clerk, also updated the commission on several voting precinct changes. Because some Tucker County residents did not fill out their U.S. Census forms, the federal government believes fewer people live and vote in Tucker County than actually do. Simmons has been in the process of explaining to the U.S. Census Bureau that Tucker County is a rural county, where lack of access to computers and broadband was likely prevented some citizens from filling out their census forms. Voters can expect to receive letters telling them where their new voting locations are soon. The information will also be published in this paper. And as always, said Simmons, voters can request an absentee ballot. “Early voting is the bomb,” said Simmons.
Finally, the county commission voted to give county employees off Dec. 23 and 24 for the Christmas Holiday, as well as 30 and the 31. “They deserve it,” said Davis sincerely.