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City of Welch Exploring Grant Possibilities and More at Tuesday’s Council Meeting

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH, WV – Grants, usage fees and property encroachment were just some of the things discussed at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting in Welch. 

Reconnecting McDowell Property

Reconnecting McDowell recently encountered a snag in acquiring $4 million dollars in additional funding on the Renaissance Village project. During construction, builders overshot onto adjacent City-owned property. 

“They were short some funding so they went to the bank to acquire more, but when they did the surveyors realized that while building the new structure, they’ve encroached on our property by 4 feet right now,” said City Attorney Joshua Miller. 

Reconnecting McDowell holds a 99-year lease on the property, but the bank required City approval before any funding could be released. 

“What we’ve done is draft a encroachment easement that says, “Yes you did encroach on our property, but we’re going to allow you do that.” That will satisfy the bank,” said Miller. 

The construction project is expected to be over by 8 feet after sidewalks and landscaping is put in place, according to Miller. 

“The encroachment agreement gives them a 10-foot right of way onto our property that’s subject to the 99-year lease,” said Miller. 

It was approved. 

Historical Commission Rekindled

The City of Welch is currently exploring multiple avenues of possibilities of grant funding, one of the those being the National Park Service grants, but in order to be eligible, the City of Welch must be a certified Local Government. 

“To be a certified local government, you have to have a Historic Commission,” said Jason Grubb. “What we currently have on the books is a Historic Building Preservation Commission that must meet 4 times a year to qualify.”

This Historic Commission became defunct over the years as all the former members are either deceased or no longer living within Welch, according to Grubb. 

“So the grant period ends mid January and we would have to be a certified local government by January 1st,” said Grubb. “To do that, I have to have five members appointed to this Commission.”

Four members were named: John Sidote, Jim Redmond, Derek Tyson and Vicki McBride, with the fifth member to be decided in an email vote sometime this week. 

“We would need to have a meeting with them in the next couple weeks to get in this grant cycle,” said Grubb as the grant application window closes on January 15th, 2020. 

What type of authority would this Commission or Historical Society Committee have,” asked Kathy Gentry. 

“Basically their job would be to seek and apply for grants and attempt to have buildings in the area registered as historically significant,” said Grubb. “They’re completely controlled by the Council. Their job would be to identify sites with historical significance, bring that to Council’s attention and seek to preserve and further use them in a different way.”

“We can’t apply for any of these grants without this and we need to apply for anything and everything we can get if its something we could put in place,” said Mayor Harold McBride. 

“We’re having to clean up a lot of committees because most were formed to apply for specific grants,” said Grubb. “Once the grants were received, the groups fell by the wayside. A lot of the problems we’re having with these grant cycles is getting these committees back in order.”

“What we’re trying to do is involve as many people as we can, not have anyone on more than one board,” said McBride. “The more people we can draw in, the better off we’ll be. We want to encourage more people to take a role in the City.”

The National Park Service grants range from $1,500 to $50,000 according to Grubb. After the discussion, it was approved to appoint the members to the Historic Building Preservation Commission.

Ballot Commissioners

To prepare for the upcoming Levy election, City Clerk Robin Lee asked Council to approve two Ballot Commissioners. 

“They approve the ballot after I order it, making sure it’s right before we print all these ballots,” said Lee. 

The two recommendations were Ashby Lynch and David Falin, both who had served previously. It was approved. 

Culture Center Fees 

The City has been pushing the Jack Caffrey Arts and Cultural Center with plenty of events this season, but is the usage fee priced out of reach for most McDowell County citizens? 

“We’re getting a lot of inquiries but they’re not using the facility,” said Grubb. “I’ve taken at least 4 calls from people wanting to rent the facility and when I give them the price per hour, they either hang up or say never mind. It’s priced out of the range of most people.”

The going rate for reserving the Center is $50 with additional fees concerning alcoholic beverages. 

“We also don’t charge non-profits,” said Grubb. “I think it may be better to charge the non-profits and just reduce the rate because we’re not getting the usage we could.”

“I inquired on it for my daughter to get married there,” said Steve Ford. “It was $50 an hour and she wanted to get married there, but the school only charged $25 an hour.”

“We need to think more about volume instead of high price,” said McBride. “Instead of making 10 dollars once a month, make a dollar every day of the month and I think we’ll come out better off.”

A shuttle for JCACC events is also something the City is investigating. One of the big holdups is parking so that’s another way to help get some volume in there.”

“Jason, could you give us a suggestion on pricing,” asked William Spencer. 

“I think cutting it in half, $25 an hour with an all day discount would be best,” said Grubb. 

“Or maybe not so much per hour as a base fee,” said Gentry. 

The Council was asked by Grubb to think it over while he approached the JCACC Committee. 

Public Feedback Needed on Specialty Crop Grant 

Before the meeting closed, Jason Grubb also wanted to mention the USDA’s Specialty Crop grants, as well as seeking the Council’s blessing to seek public input on a potential project. 

“Part of the grant involves getting public feedback on the project,” said Grubb. “The thought I had, based on multiple levels, being agri-tourism, the profit margin per acre of the crop and the longevity of the crop would be to do a lavender program in the city.”

Previous attempts of establishing lavender as a specialty crop in West Virginia mainly took place on former mountaintop removal sites, planting large amounts of acreage. 

“It failed terribly because they didn’t have to manpower to work it,” said Grubb. 

Instead of a large farm operation, Grubb’s thought was to split it up across individual plots in and outside the City of Welch.

“We’d be able to provide them lavender and training,” said Grubb. “It grows for a cycle of up to 15 years, while being ready for harvest each year. So instead of the 100 acre farm, you take from the 100 little patches to combine into one harvest.” 

Citing the aesthetic benefits the purple plant would have on the area, Grubb also stated the monetary value the project could offer. 

“A 10×10 plot of land can give you a benefit of up to $1,800 dollars a year in profit, not just gross,” said Grubb. “That goes into the pocket of a hundred different people to spend in the community. We’d also be creating jobs for the processing facility, but to do that, we need public input.”

“What would a processing facility entail,” asked Mike Day. 

“It depends on how you want to use the lavender,” said Grubb. “It could be as little as a small building in town that takes a cold press machine that harvests the oil. It could be an air drying facility with 2 or 3 people. If it’s for food stuff, the USDA will have to come in and approve them.”

Grubb admitted the processing facility wouldn’t create a hundred jobs, but it may create 2 or 3 for the area.  

“You don’t know what it would cost,” asked Day

“If it wasn’t covered in the grant, we wouldn’t do it,” said Grubb. “It’s a zero match grant as well.”

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m fine with him seeking out public input,” said Gentry. 

“We’re trying anything and everything, looking outside the box,” said McBride. “What if you got 2 jobs. That’s very important in our area.”

Chad Webb of Reconnecting McDowell was also present at the meeting Tuesday, saying that the organization had successfully navigated the USDA speciality crop grant process for a high tunnel at a local school and would help assist the City in this endeavor. 

It was approved.