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Work-Based Experience Program, Potential County Building Commission, and More Discussed at Wednesday’s County Commission Meeting

By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor

WELCH, WV – The McDowell County Commission met Wednesday to discuss the following: 

The County Commission approved a Dilapidated Structure mapping project with Region One Planning and Development Council, seeking to identify an estimated 5,000 structures across McDowell County in need of demolition. The agreement entailed grant funding, $40,000 from Region One with a $10,000 match required from the County Commission. 

Randal Coleman, Employment specialist working out of the local Workforce office for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation addressed the Commission about a new work experience program for local high school students. 

“We’re starting something with the high school kids, it’s called Community Work-Based Experience,” said Coleman. “We’re asking the Commission to help us train our young people and give them some experience. The Courthouse is a great training ground, the Assessor’s office, the Tax office, the County Clerk’s office.” 

The Division of Rehabilitation has contracted two agencies: the Mercer County Opportunity Industries and New School, to support the project.

“They’re actually going to hire these students to come and do work-based learning experience,” said Coleman. “If they were working in the Courthouse, they would place a child in there for 80 hours of work across the summer and New School or MCLI would pay their salary. All we’re asking for is the place or facility to train these children. They would be paid by the agency that hires them and if they were to get injured on the property, that agency is liable and not the County.”

The program gives students a chance to test their career dreams before committing to a degree and subsequent costs. 

“One young lady wanted to become a dentist so I worked it out with TLC Dentistry for this child to shadow their dentist,” said Coleman. “She came back and said it was wonderful, but she didn’t want to do it.”

Another student spent time shadowing a veterinarian, but realized it wasn’t for her after seeing the job firsthand according to Coleman. 

“This helps our young people actually experience the work of their interest before spending precious dollars on a degree,” said Coleman. “We’re asking the County Commission to allow job shadowing. How does the County Clerk do his job? How do the Commissioners do their job?” 

Through the program, participating offices would hire the students, but be reimbursed for the expenses. 

“If Southern Highlands is paying the student $10 an hour, we will reimburse them $12 for each hour,” said Coleman. “We would do the same if they were employed with the County.”

It was approved.  

Chief Deputy James Muncy approached the Commission on behalf of the Berwind Angler’s Association in regards to funding for Berwind Lake Kid’s Day scheduled for the end of May. 

“Since that goes into the lake, can it come out of the hotel/motel tax,” asked Patterson. 

“”No it does not,” said Prosecuting Attorney Emily Miller. “it’s already been brought up to the CVB Board and they have denied it.”

“So there’s no available funds for it,” asked Patterson. “That wouldn’t fall under recreation with it being at the lake?”

“It does not promote economic activity and the CVB held that it didn’t promote due to the fact that they were locals and it would be paying for all of their things and they would not be putting any money into the project,” said Miller. “However, they did say that certain Kiwanis groups were making donations to the different kids days and that they should apply for those.”

“Let’s table it,” said Cody Estep. 

“Want to try to figure it out,” asked Brooks. 

“Yeah let’s table this until we can figure something out,” said Patterson. 

Estep motioned to table, seconded by Brooks. 

Molina Roberts, Director of the McDowell County EDA, followed up on bridge damage at the Black Wolf Golf Links course from February flooding. The Commission approved a $7,500 request to make the repairs and it was approved. 

Patterson also asked Roberts about the status of the Berwind Lake Cabin project. 

“We’re looking for the electricians to hardwire the smoke detectors and looking for a plumber to put in the sprinkler systems,” said Roberts.

Teresa VanDyke addressed the Commission about multiple items, starting with a Red Cross suggested member for the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), Angela Akers. It was approved. 

The Commissioners debated about renewing the 911 Center’s LabTech Scheduling software expense, over $3,000, but ultimately approved to renew for this year. 

A service contract concerning the 911 Center’s recording system for 911 calls was also brought before the Commission, as well as a purchase request for uninterruptible power sources (UPS). 

“We’ve also had some power issues at the Center,” said VanDyke. “In the last 3 or 4 days, we had some people come check and there was an error in the UPS. It’s doing fine after they reset it, but I would like to purchase more. It would be less than a thousand to purchase three and would make us three deep on backups. 

Because of the power issue, the Center has no recordings from February 20th to Monday this week after realizing the recording system was down. 

“The power kicked through our generator transfer,” said VanDyke. “When the UPS didn’t pick it up the computers went offline. When they booted back up, the system froze.”

“When you go down, do you not make sure everything is back up and running,” asked Patterson. 

“When we had the original issue, we thought it was Frontier issue because our phones went down first,” said VanDyke. “It wasn’t until Monday that we figured all of this out.”

To prevent any issues in the future, VanDyke said an alarm would be added to inform staff of any errors with the recording system. The Commission approved the service contract and uninterruptible power source purchase. 

Roger Hunter of the Bowles Rice LLP, approached the Commission last about potentially creating a County Building Commission in order to finance a new Field House and Central Board Office structure at Mount View High School. 

“We represent School Boards all over West Virginia, but the Central Office building here is one of the oldest around,” said Hunter. “I don’t know if its the oldest exactly, but it was built in the 20s.”

Hunter explained that if the County were to form a County Building Commission, it could own and hold titles to public property buildings as well as issue tax exempt public revenue bonds. 

“They do not have the ability and cannot in any way, shape or form, implicate your finances as a County,” said Hunter. “No tax dollars of the county or the County Commission are pledged to pay any of the bonds created by the Building Commission.”

In the hypothetical situation of the Commission being formed, Hunter said the Building Commission could then lease the structure back to the Board of Education, providing sufficient payments to cover bond principal and interest. 

“The maximum amount of bonds that would be issued would be up to a maximum $5.5 million dollars,” said Hunter. “That may not be the exact amount, but that is the ceiling amount we have arrived at after the finance people have looked at it.”

Three to five members would be required by law to sit on the Building Commission, serving in staggered terms such as 1 year, 2 year, up to 5 years. Another stipulation is no more than two-thirds of the members could be from one political party. 

“Another rule is you can’t appoint someone who is a State or Federal employee, or officer of another Board or Commission,” said Hunter. “You couldn’t appoint a County Commissioner, or someone on the EDA Board. You have to be careful not to appoint anyone with a position or on a State board.” 

Members must also be residents of McDowell County. No compensation is offered for the position, but the people who serve are entitled to reimbursement of necessary and reasonable expenses according to Hunter. 

“Is this something that you see people doing statewide,” asked Brooks.

“We’ve seen it done for the Jefferson County School Bus garage facility. We’re working on another bus garage facility in another county as well,” said Hunter. “It’s not just for school purposes, there are other public buildings that are sometimes financed in this manner.”

“If we create this new board, would it need the Commission’s permission to enter into new projects,” asked Patterson. 

“Not necessarily, it would be its own legal entity,” said Hunter. “You would have appointment power initially and I would think that it would be a pretty poor Board decision to do something the County Commission didn’t want to do. Legally, it could technically.”

Speaking to Will Chapman, Maintenance Director of McDowell County Schools, Patterson said he was aware of the current Central Office’s state of disrepair.

“The fire marshal is working with you just to keep the doors open now,” said Patterson.

“He doesn’t want them open,” said Chapman. 

Patterson said after the Prosecuting Attorney had time to review the proposal, a special meeting could potentially be arranged next week to consider forming the County Building Commission. 

Cody Estep motioned to allow the Prosecuting Attorney to review the proposal, seconded by Michael Brooks.