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Library levy back on ballot

Facilities will close next year if it fails

ROMNEY — The library levy is going back on the fall ballot after failing by a small margin in the primary, the County Commission agreed unanimously at their Tuesday meeting.

If the 2nd try fails, both the Hampshire County Public Library and the Capon Bridge Public Library expect to close by the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1, 2021.

The library levy costs the average county homeowner less than $20 a year, and Commission President Bob Hott said he was surprised it had not passed. The libraries had even lowered the levy this time, making it less expensive for property owners.

Levies require 60-percent approval to pass, and Hampshire County Public Library Board President Steve Moreland reported that after the last mail-in ballots were counted, the levy was just short, with 57.95 percent. The difference was 99 votes.

Losing the levy cut library budgets 60 percent on just 3 weeks’ notice, for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Both libraries face difficult decisions as they look for cuts that might allow them to survive the coming year.

Even if the levy passes in November, it will not go into effect until July 1 next year, and in the meantime the libraries must find a way to get by on just 40 percent of their normal funding.

The Hampshire County Public Library has a fund set aside for repairs and capital improvements that it can draw on to stay open until next July, Moreland said. They will still need to cut back somewhere, he added, and though they do not want to cut staff or hours, they may have to do so.

Capon Bridge Public Library Board Chairwoman Barbara Sirbaugh reported that her library lacks the “slush fund” available to the Romney library, and said she saw no way they could survive the year on 40 percent of their normal budget. She agreed to return to ask the county commission for help after the Capon Bridge board decides what they will need to get through the year.

The library boards are also faced with the state library commission’s June 30 deadline for submission of their budgets, though Moreland believed they would cut Hampshire County some slack, given the unexpected loss of the levy.

What cuts can be made to allow the libraries to survive to July 1, 2021, even if the levy passes on its 2nd try, will be the big question.

The HCPL board will be continuing work on a budget this week, aided by a list of possible cuts librarian Megan Shanholtz gave them last week that include cuts in hours, materials, programs and repairs. She was concerned that opening will bring new expenses — for gloves, masks and cleaning supplies, and said she was not sure how the library could survive on 40 percent of the annual budget.

While cutting services, the HCPL library board also must find funds for some essential repairs, though they will try to keep these to a minimum. Some planned work on the library restrooms will be put on hold - but a fixture in the ladies’ room must be replaced, and there is a leak in the men’s room.

More important, gutters not draining properly have damaged the building, causing falling plaster from a deteriorating roof underhang, and this must be dealt with without waiting for next year’s budget.

Shanholtz received an estimate of $24,000 to recover the library’s rubber roofing, fix the drainage problem and probably replace the fallen plaster, and will seek additional estimates.

Even if the levy passes, getting through the year will be a struggle. Members of both boards were concerned that the forced closing due to COVID-19 may have allowed some people to forget how much the library does, not just in checking out books and materials, but also the free computers and internet access, the databases and materials that can be accessed with home computers, the programming, the educational support and activities for children, the free space for meetings, the copy machines and free public notary service.

They are determined to continue doing as much as possible through the coming year, and hope things will return to normal next July.

But first, the library levy must pass.


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River’s surge tips 2 kayakers

An age-old truth of life in these parts played out again over the weekend. Rain in the mountains turned into near-disaster here.

“We knew the water was coming north,” Romney Fire Chief G.T. Parsons said Tuesday morning.

Heavy rains in Grant and Pendleton counties on Thursday sent the South Branch surging on Friday, shooting up from its lazy 2-and-a-half-foot normal level at Springfield to 10-and-a-half feet in just 6 hours.

Minor flood stage is 12 feet.

The upshot? A pair of kayakers had to be rescued near Washington Bottom farm, about 5 miles north of Romney, on Saturday afternoon.

“The South Branch …was rapidly moving and was not safe for recreational purpose,” the Romney Fire Company noted on its Facebook Page.

Springfield Valley Fire Company posted this request: “*Please Stay Off The River Until It Resides To Normal Depths.*”

Romney and Springfield Valley operate a joint swift-water rescue team that responded to the call shortly after 1:30 p.m. that kayakers had overturned and were holding onto trees.

Parsons said the pair were quickly rescued and returned to terra firma.

The swift-water team rescued 2 other people from the river at the Romney bridge on Memorial Day weekend and has been called out several times since, Parsons said.

The river was still at 4-and-a-half feet at mid-morning Tuesday.


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Warrant uncovers drugs, stolen gun

SPRINGFIELD — A Springfield man who police say chased a car and fired shots at the occupants is behind bars along with his wife.

Jason Malcolm, 34, was arrested June 15 and his wife, Stacey Lambert-Malcolm was jailed Sunday after a search warrant turned up a balloonful of white powder and a cache of weapons that included one stolen in Romney last month.

Both are charged with possession with intent to deliver and conspiracy. He is also charged with wanton endangerment. Jason Malcolm is being held on $20,012 cash bail and Stacey Malcolm is being held on $10,012 cash bail.

The saga began on June 5 outside the Malcolm residence. A disturbance was called in to police and witnesses reported Jason Malcolm chased a vehicle to a spot along Campbell Road east of Springfield, where he discharged a shotgun toward 2 people. Malcolm fled the scene before officers arrived. 

In a later search of the Malcolm residence, deputies found approximately 48 grams of a white powder, suspected to be a controlled substance, packaged in a balloon. Various packaged pills were also found. 

Officers also seized 17 firearms, including the shotgun suspected of being used in the incident along Campbell Road. 

One of the weapons seized had been reported stolen in the Romney area in early May. Also in the haul was body armor. 

Romney Police and the West Virginia Natural Resource Police assisted in the warrant execution. 


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Parsons makes book on Tinseltown talent

Abigail Parsons knows a lot about talent.

In fact, she has made an entire career out of it.

Romney native Parsons grew up in the rural landscape of Hampshire County, but once she took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles, she found her passion in the realm of talent booking, and she’s been making more and more of a name for herself ever since.

“I always loved film and television,” Parsons reminisced. “From a young age, my sister and I were always making movies with our production company, ‘Ab & Mm’ Productions, and my dad even fancies himself a director.”

After Parsons graduated from college with a degree in English Literature, she headed west to Los Angeles and started out as an assistant at a talent agency, moving on to work as a segment producer on music documentaries, then finding her way into talent booking. She’s been working in talent booking for the last 10 years, and right now she works with the company Cultivated Entertainment, which Parsons described as a “small, women-led and driven company that feels like a family.”  

The City of Angels seems like it’s on a separate planet entirely from Hampshire County, and while Parsons said it’s not quite as glamorous as it’s portrayed, there still is an air of hope there.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years now and love it – the weather, the culture and the entertainment industry all keep me grounded in the city,” Parsons said. “I feel like the city has endless possibility and a lot of people move here with big dreams. I think if you work hard at it, you find your way in the business.”

And she has certainly found her way: she was one of the talent bookers responsible for the famous faces who appeared in the “Dear Class of 2020” YouTube special most recently, a project aiming to reach out to seniors whose graduation plans were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all felt like we were part of something truly special, a one-of-a-kind virtual graduation for the grads that wouldn't be able to celebrate in the traditional way,” explained Parsons. “The New York Times described it as ‘a lineup that even the most ambitious real-life commencement would find impossible to replicate.’”

The lineup was certainly an impressive one, including some of the most recognizable faces from Hollywood and beyond like Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Mark Hamill, among many others. Parsons said a few hundred celebrities were booked, and in 72 hours “Dear Class of 2020” received 34 million views.

“As a company, we could not be more proud of it,” added Parsons.

While many would be starstruck working so close with celebrities, Parsons is used to it. It’s just another day in the entertainment industry.  

“I work across the board with talent from A-list to even the cast of Tiger King,” Parsons explained. “For the most part I work with their teams (management, publicity, agency) and then liaise with the talent when we shoot whatever program we’re working on.”

She’s gotten life advice from Henry Winkler (“He told me that in this business, you will go up and down, and to always remember to be kind to people for that reason,” she said.), she’s met Jim Carey (“He was so kind and, as you can imagine, hilarious.”) and she’s crossed Paul McCartney off her wish list of talent to book when she booked him 2 years ago for “In Conversation” with comedian Marc Maron.

Nearly all industries have been scrambling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the entertainment industry has been no different. Parsons said that production shut down immediately after the shelter-at-home order put out in mid-March, and programming had to adapt in order to creatively move forward.

“Now we are starting to gear up for shows that will be shooting in a studio with proper protocols in August (likely at the earliest),” she said.

On a personal level, Parsons said that she had to adjust from being in an office daily for her job to staying at home with her husband Ian and her cat Margot. She said she’s grateful to be able to work these days and to “create programming that feels meaningful and appropriate given what is going on in the world.”

While it seems Parsons is worlds away, hobnobbing with famous faces and following her dream to work in the entertainment industry, there’s a special place in her heart for West Virginia and Hampshire County.

Her parents, Beth (a retired teacher) and Charlie (a retired judge) still live on Grassy Lick Road.

“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” she remarked. “I love coming to visit and always with a stop at Romney Diner (Shirley’s Diner) on the top of my list.”


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Blue Bridge traffic 1-lane

Brayman Construction is finally starting construction of a new John Blue Bridge — work that will have traffic on Route 28 down to 1 lane for 18 months.

One-lane traffic at the bridge began Tuesday, guided by temporary traffic signals. The signal will alternate north- and south-bound traffic as well as vehicles coming onto Route 28 from Long Road and Camp Cliffside Road.

The signals are in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Temporary barriers will be in place to protect the work area.    

Signs alerting traffic to the change were active late last week — the 2nd time Brayman has had the signs operational.

“Motorists should expect significant delays,” the Division of Highways said. “Motorists are advised to stay alert and travel with caution through the work zone.” 

The final design for the bridge has the northbound lane being constructed where the southband lane is now.

Crews will build the 1st lane of the new bridge and then remove the old trestle bridge before construction can be completed.

“That will slow things down for a little while, but it will be a nicer, wider bridge once we get done,” Area Engineer Ryan Arnold said earlier this year. He’s overseeing work for the Division of Highways. 

Brayman was awarded the $12.14 million contract before Christmas and received orders to proceed on Jan. 15.

The bridge has a projected completion date of Oct. 15, 2021.

The project, first announced in 2015, was delayed early on, when the initial environmental impact study unearthed significant historical artifacts. DOH altered the route of the new bridge on Route 28 between Romney and Springfield to avoid the archeological site.

The current John Blue Bridge, built in 1936, rated poor — 4 on a scale of 0 to 9 — in a 2013 evaluation of all West Virginia bridges.

It requires painting and more maintenance than modern bridges, Thorne said. A weight limit is imposed because of its age and condition.

The new bridge will look a lot like the span built across the South Branch on U.S. 50 west of Romney in 2010.