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Highlights from Wednesday’s County Commission Meeting

WELCH, W.Va. – The McDowell County Commission met Wednesday afternoon to discuss some of the following:

McDowell County Health Department Director JJ Rose called in to give an update on COVID-19 to the Commissioners.  “It looks like we’re having a spike because every day we’re seeing more numbers,” said Commission President Cecil Patterson. “We just wanted to see if you had any updates for us.”“Wyoming County has been red for over a week unfortunately. Mingo County to our left turned red today. Mercer county turned gold again. It’s all around us. Nationally it’s going up and across the State. We’re at almost 7 months dealing with this thing, but if we do relax, we see what’s going to happen,” said Rose. “Fortunately, we’ve not had any fatalities as far as this county is concerned. We have had a pool in the hospital, some even needing a ventilator, but they’ve all come off of it.”
Rose noted that the majority of people encountering the virus have not had severe symptoms, leading some to shrug off the concerns.
“I know everyone can’t follow the guidelines 100 percent of the time, no one can. But going in the store a month ago, we were in a pretty good spot as far as mask usage. When I went into the store, there were more people with masks than not,” said Rose. “Now sometimes unfortunately I’m the only one or I see one other person with one.”
Rose was optimistic about the State’s submission of a vaccine plan, allowing clinics, pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals, to give out the vaccine instead of only the Health Department.
“We’ve had issues when the girls call to confirm the positive case and the people don’t stay home,” said Rose. “But the real kicker is when they don’t tell us everything we need to know. You only start finding out when other people turn up positive.”
Rose insisted no one is in trouble, they just want to manage the situation.
“You’re not in trouble, we’re just trying to check on you during the 14 day quarantine so we can get our arm wrapped around this thing,” said Rose. “There is an argument of how bad is this thing, but it’s definitely real.”
The Commission insisted that the virus spread be controlled as well, wishing to not overwhelm the local Welch Community Hospital’s care capabilities. Since the pandemic begin, the County COVID-19 Task Force meets by phone twice a week to inform all County agencies of new COVID-19 developments.
Rose praised the meetings, saying he didn’t know how counties without similar cross-agency communication were pulling through these times.
Bradshaw Mayor Brian Harrison approached the Commission Wednesday, with Jason Roberts of Region One Development Council calling in to the meeting, to discuss moving forward on plans for McDowell County Public Service District to take over Bradshaw’s aging water system.
“Long story short, the Town had significant water issues with the pump and piping and it needed to be replaced. There isn’t a pot of funds for “need to have it right now” funding. $32,000 was requested from the EDA and fortunately they were able to pay for that,” said Roberts. “At the same time, we were working with the town to explore several options for even more positive funding to help with the overall picture. During this time, the town had decided they were ready to transfer this over to McDowell County PSD. All major federal and state funding sources are pushing towards those bigger entities.”
Roberts said the intention was to approach State entities about funding to aid in the transition of the system into PSD hands.
“The Rural Development Authority suggested that the Town apply for a critical infrastructure grant for half of the cost of the pump,” said Roberts. “The grant would not reimburse the EDA, but the Town instead. The Town would then reimburse the EDA because there’s going to be $6,000 dollars in legal and advertising fees for the transfer over to the PSD.”  
Roberts said the Town of Bradshaw would then request the legal fee funding from the EDA, while letting them keep the rest towards the money already used for a new pump. Prosecuting Attorney Emily Miller had concerns about the plan, saying the EDA account could not be used for the payment of wages.
Roberts asked if the EDA could create a new fund allowing the use, so the Commission voted to table the issue until all parties had time to consider the idea.
McDowell County Public Service District’s General Manager, Mavis Brewster, approached the Commission about dealings with tourism rental owners being unaware of local laws and policies governing their business.
“We’ve had a lot of tourism and new businesses coming into the county, but we’ve also encountered some issues,” said Brewster. “When we talked to some new owners about the procedure that needed to followed, some owner said they came to McDowell County because there aren’t any codes to follow.”
Brewster requested a meeting with the Commissioners to help set a policy for new business owners in the County to follow.
“We’re having trouble connecting to old houses that are renovated into rentals,” said Brewster. “Some are in areas with older system we’ve just taken over and are unmetered.”
Crumpler and Ashland were cited specifically, but Brewster said the issue was countwide.
“Maybe we need a webpage to guide them through opening their businesses, a policy or plan that everyone could be aware of,” said Brewster. “We want business in McDowell County but we want it done correctly.”
The Commission agreed that it was an issue that needed attention and agreed to arrange a future meeting, as well as inviting the PSD to regular meetings to provide ongoing updates.
Teresa VanDyke, 911 Center Director, approached the Commission about a free to use emergency information app now requiring payment after the trial period expired.
“It’s called Heads Up Community, a free app for anyone in the county is now requiring us to pay for it,” said VanDyke.
The company owning the app requested approximately $4,500 to continue providing the app, but VanDyke said she counter offered based on registered users to bring the price down to $1,500.
“They informed me that there were about 5,500 people signed up receiving information. We went back and did some quick numbers and they were saying about 25 cents per person. That comes out to around 1,500,” said VanDyke. “This app can be used by numerous agencies, to distribute emergency and non-emergency information through it. I cannot use this through 911 money so I’m asking the Commission to pay the $1,500 so we can notify the public about COVID, closures and reopenings, and shelter information, things like that.”
The Commission felt that the app should fall under 911 funding since it was used to relay emergency, but VanDyke insisted it only could be used for expenses related to incoming calls, not outgoing information.
“With social media and the things you have at your disposal, plus it’s not been used in two years and just a few months lately, I don’t know if we can do it,” said Commissioner Michael Brooks. “We’re trying to get Deputies vests which is a number one priority to me.”
Jimmy Gianato approached the Commission again, providing an update on the Tower Consultant the County approved to help identify locations and secure funding for the development of new radio and cellphone towers in the area.
“In line with those towers, we also want to look at how we can partner with cell phone companies to partner in efforts to increase broadband and cell service coverage in the County,” said Gianato.
The Commission and Gianato spoke about towers above Northfork and Iaeger, with construction currently underway at the Iaeger location.
“As you all know, we lost the grant to tie into a tower near Big 4 and potential for another one near Bradshaw,” said Gianato. “This consultant will also be looking for ways to get those projects refunded and move forward on additional sites. We only have one point of contact when it comes to the State to discuss any issues related to the statewide radio system. That’s Teresa. With us working with the consultant, I think we need to add a couple of other points of contact. I’m a believer in redundancy, you can never have one point of failure so I think we need to add some additional people to the state listing of people who can negotiate with the state, add users and approve things at the county level.”
Commissioner Brooks motioned to add Gianato and County Administrator Jennifer Wimmer to the listing and the Commission unanimously approved.  
Concerned property owners and hunters approached the Commission once again, calling on them to stand behind them as they deal with property disputes on leased land across McDowell County.
“You’ve got my support,” said Patterson.
“We’ve reached out to the land companies and still haven’t heard anything,” said Commissioner Cody Estep.
The Commission heard recollections of numerous encounters with property owners or lease holders and agreed to hold a meeting focused on the issue next week, November 5th at the Welch Armory beginning at 4:00 p.m.