Highlights from Wednesday’s County Commission Meeting, 10/23/19

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH – The McDowell County Commission met Wednesday, October 23rd to discuss the following:

Financial Update

After approving the current bills, the Commission had an air of optimism. 

“It does look good,” said Commission President Cecil Patterson. “The jail bill is very reasonable this time. We’re moving along, a little bit slow but we’re getting there.”

Cynthia Thompson of the McDowell County Tax Office also updated the Commission on current collections.

“Since the last meeting, we did get our coal tax and coal reallocation funds. Both of them went up,” said Thompson. “The Coal fund went up $63,000 and reallocation was actually $68,000. 

“And we won’t expect anymore until,” asked Patterson.

“February or March,” said Thompson. 

“Alright we’re in good shape, we just have to make it to March with this money,” said Patterson.  

Hiring at Tax Office

Sheriff Martin West addressed the Commission about replacing a position in the McDowell County Tax Office. 

The Commission approved the hire of Terri Horn to fill the vacancy, effective November 3rd. 

Suspension of the RDA

The Commission entered into a brief Executive Session before returning to discuss the suspension of the Redevelopment Authority. 

“I make a motion that we suspend the Redevelopment Authority and the current-acting Board based upon things the Commission has dealt with in the last few months,” said Commissioner Michael Brooks. “Bring that program under the direct supervision of the McDowell County Commission and as far as flood plain management, that the Commission would allow Felicia Spencer, who works at the EDA Office, to take care of the floodplain management after receiving proper training.” 

Brooks said they had found that most counties in the State operate that program out of their local EDA offices.

It was approved. 

Berwind Broadband Application

At the last meeting, Jeff Raines of Regional One Planning & Development Council presented another broadband application to the Commission, this time concerning the Berwind Lake area. 

“This would put broadband from where it stops in the War area to Berwind Lake where the cabins and economic development going to take place,” said Patterson. 

While not a matchless grant process, the EDA will step in to cover the match, making it zero cost to the County. 

It was approved. 

Outdated Assessor’s Office Equipment

McDowell County Assessor Ray Bailey approached the Commission along with staff from his office to request the replacement of aging equipment. 

“We’ve got equipment in our office that’s over ten years old. We’ve been having a lot of trouble with it,” said Bailey. “Global Science and Technology has given us some quotes on the equipment to get us caught up to date. If that equipment goes down, our office goes down. I’m trying my best to get our County equal to all the other counties in the State, but we’ve got to have something to work with.”

According to Bailey and staff, GST said they were not obligated to continue maintenance on systems older than 5 years, let alone 10. 

Brooks motioned to approve the approximate $15,000 expense, seconded by Cody Estep. 

It was approved. 

Census Complete Count Committee

Michael Bennett, Partnership Specialist at the U.S. Census Bureau, addressed the Commission about the upcoming 2020 Census.

“I’ll be acting as the local liaison to McDowell County, helping coordinate different Taskforce efforts from statewide down to the County or even municipal level, however local is necessary,” said Bennett. “Our mission is to educate McDowell County’s entire population about the 2020 Census and our message is to be easy, safe and important.”

Bennett highlighted the points of the message: 

“It’s very easy. It literally takes about 10 minutes. This is the first time that we’ve allowed for online submissions. You still can call or respond by mail,” said Bennett. 

“It’s safe. A lot of times people have a contention, as far as they fear the information. It’s only an aggregate count that we use for data, nothing is personal. We actually take a $250,000 fine and a 5-year oath to protect that information. 

“It’s very important. All the various breakdowns of federal funding is determined by the numbers that are drawn from the Census,” said Bennett.

The biggest task at hand according to Bennett was finding the hard-to-reach population of McDowell County. 

“Aggregate count is critical for our communities. Participating in the Census makes sure we get a fair chance and a fair share of the government funding, a little over 675 billion dollars each year,” said Bennett.

The Census is mandated by the Constitution and has been held every 10 years since 1790. 

“The first one in McDowell County was in 1860. You all had 1,523 people,” said Bennett. “Of course it grew, in 1950, it was 98,000 plus. Now we’re hovering at the 20k range.”

After canvassing in several communities, Bennett felt the numbers could go higher if the hard-to-reach members of the community were found. 

“A lot of people say they have 4 people in the home, but they really have 8 living there,” said Bennett. “They’re afraid that the information can be used against them, but it’s just for our data only.”

Out 3,142 counties in the US, McDowell County ranked last in life expectancy in 2013. In 2015, McDowell had the highest rates of drug induced deaths of any state. The statistics were generated based on Census data. 

“It’s a 17.6% projected loss from the 2010 Census count 22,113,” said Bennett. “It’s projected to be 18,223 in 2020. I don’t believe the projections, I think that number could rise if we do the work to let everyone know it’s coming up, it’s important and they need to do it.”

Bennett urged the importance of community members to speak out about the importance of the Census and for the County Commission to form a Complete Count Committee, comprised of a broad spectrum of government and county officials. 

“April 1st is National Census Day but information can be submitted as early as March,” said Bennett. ”I would recommend that you all form a Complete Count Committee and then to have a chair that can correspond with me.”

Bennett met earlier in the month with Governor Jim Justice and delegates about forming a statewide Complete Count Commission, to which an Executive Order was created. $1.5 million was awarded for the efforts as well. 

“I know they have a focus on McDowell County because of some of the statistics I read to you,” said Bennett.

“Will you all do some local hiring,” asked Patterson.

Bennett confirmed that hiring in the Beckley region (covering Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties) would require approximately 12,000 employees. 

“Last time, some of the people doing the census just weren’t familiar with the area,” said Patterson.

“I brought some of your points to the Governor and they’re going to try hosting workshops for the Census in this area,” said Bennett. “They already have started taking applications, we urge everyone to go to 2020census.gov where you can actually apply online.”

“These local people would be a lot more comfortable seeing someone they know walking down the hollows knocking on everybody’s door. If they could just say it’s for the 2020 census, I think it would really help,” said Brooks. 

“Let’s form a group, yes,” said Estep. 

It was approved to create a Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census. 

The next McDowell County Commission meeting will be held on November 13th, 2019 at 4:00 p.m. at the County Commission Building in Welch. All interested residents are encouraged to attend.