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WVSDB cutting staff by 20%
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Enrollment decline eliminates 42 positions

The schools last week handed out 32 notices to current staffers that their positions will not be renewed for the 2021-22 year that begins July 1. In education circles, the notices are referred to as RIFs, reduction-in-force notices.

In addition, Personnel Director Sondra McKenery said, 10 more positions that are either vacant or filled by substitutes are being eliminated.

“We have lost students, so we’re downsizing,” acting Superintendent Pat Homberg said Monday.

Two weeks ago Homburg reported WVSDB’s enrollment at 94 — 51 residential and 43 day students. Of those, 58 are enrolled in the School for the Blind and 36 in the School for the Deaf.

Before the Covid pandemic, enrollment had for several years hovered in the range of 110 students, with the split between deaf and blind students more even.

But the pandemic led many parents to keep their students home for this school year. Adding to parents’ reasons was the school’s decision to reduce homegoings to once a month from once a week.

Homberg said homegoings will resume weekly next school year. She also is hoping for an increase in students attending short courses and teachers coming to campus for training — both with an eye toward increasing enrollment.

“As enrollment increases if the need arises for staff to work with the youngsters, then the position will be posted and filled,” she said. “It all hinges on the enrollment.”

Any new openings will go 1st to those who were laid off, by seniority, Homberg said.

The RIFs from last week mark the 2nd time in a decade that WVSDB has had major staff reductions.

Ten years ago, the schools had 255 employees and enrollment was around 175. But a state audit in 2010 forced the schools to send back to their home districts students who didn’t have vision or hearing noted as a disability. The move sent enrollment down and by 2016 WVSDB was reporting it had 173 employees.

The new round of reductions include 3 professional staff, 17 service personnel and 12 residential staff.

The staff reductions come amid an overhaul in the organization of the schools and the residential program.

Beginning next fall, all students 5th grade and lower will be taught in 1 building and 6th- through 12th-graders will be taught in another. This eliminates the 150 years of dividing the schools between the blind in 1 facility and the deaf in another.

In addition, all residential students will be housed at Keller Hall next year. This year they are split between Keller and Seaton halls.

McKenery said the effect of combining residence halls was minimal for the staff reductions.

“It’s really all about the declining enrollment,” she said, reiterating Homberg’s assertion.

Vaccines open to all adults
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To schedule a vaccination, visit vaccinate.wv.gov or call 1-833-734-0965.

Vaccines are open to anyone age 16 or older.

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West Virginia has opened Covid-19 vaccinations to everyone age 16 or older.

Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement Monday with the order taking effect immediately.

“Now is our time. Let’s go, West Virginia,” Justice said. “Let’s get everybody in this state vaccinated.”

State data showed that about 25% of the total population was partially vaccinated, and 15% were fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,612 people so far in West Virginia.

The percentages were slightly lower in Hampshire County — 9.4% fully vaccinated and about 10.5% more at least partially vaccinated.

As of Monday Hampshire had administered 6,673 doses of Covid-19 vaccine; 2,189 were fully vaccinated.

“This is exciting,” County Health Director Stephanie Shoemaker said Monday.

She noted that her health department is receiving 500 doses a week for new vaccinations plus more to give people their 2nd doses.

Shoemaker once again urged all residents to be vaccinated — including those who have had the virus.

“Reinfection is a possibility,” she said. “If they had Covid before it is possible to catch one of the other variants or if it’s been long enough and their immunity has waned.”

She said Hampshire County has had “a couple” cases of reinfection.

Justice said the state will continue prioritizing doses for residents 65 and over. 

The state previously was allowing shots for all residents 50 and over, essential workers of any age and individuals 16 and over who had underlying medical conditions. Justice last week had said eligibility expansion might not come for weeks, but on Monday suddenly announced the state would open the floodgates.

The state becomes one of the few in the nation to lift virtually all eligibility requirements way ahead of President Joe Biden’s goal of allowing all adults to get shots starting on May 1.

Total valuation of property here rises again
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ROMNEY — The assessed value of all taxable property in Hampshire County has spiked to its highest level in 11 years — and the 3rd-highest ever.

 The valuation of $1.380 billion as of last July 1, jumped $15 million from a year earlier.

The increase in the valuation will mean more revenue for local government bodies that receive property taxes, primarily the school system and county government.

Beyond that, the numbers are a peek into the state of the county’s economy.

Almost every category of property and personal property throughout the county showed an increase from 2019 to 2020.

But the values of real estate, personal property and public utilities within the town limits of Romney and Capon Bridge decreased by a combined $667,000 out of $49.21 million.

“People aren’t moving to Romney so much,” Assessor Norma Wagoner noted.

Her office verifies valuations by visiting each property in the county every 3 years, but the value of utilities and industrial sites is figured differently.

“The state simply gives us a number,” Wagoner said. “We have no control over it.”

Utility property includes power and phone lines and railroads plus the value of the trains and other equipment. That figure dropped by around $8 million from 2019.

The value of owner-occupied residences accounted for almost all of the increase, rising $14.5 million.

Wagoner pointed to surprising buoyancy in home sales amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People are moving out of the cities,” she noted. “Home sales didn’t fall off.”

The value of businesses, rental properties and personal property outside the 2 towns rose by $8 million, offsetting the drop in utility valuation.

Taxes based on these property values will be collected beginning this summer. Local government units — the 2 municipalities, the county and the school system — are in the process of building their budgets based on the values and projected property tax revenues.

The County Commission must submit its budget by the end of this month.

The numbers come from the annual Certificate of Valuation document released by the county assessor's office each year in March. As is the case across the state, the work completed by the Hampshire County assessor’s office this year reflects an assessment period beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2020.

While the total assessed property value for the county reaches into the big dollar numbers, once the county tax rate is applied to the valuation total, those numbers generally result in around $5 million to $7 million actual property tax revenue generated to run Hampshire County’s government.

The budget and funding for Hampshire County schools is separate from the county budget. In addition to local property taxes, the bulk of funding for public school systems across West Virginia comes from the state.

Of course, starting with the tax bills that come out this July, Hampshire County Schools will also collect revenue for the $26 million bond call voters approved last year.

In 2005, the total value of Hampshire County property stood at $871 million, but it soared to $1.397 billion just 3 years later, fueled in large part by the real estate boom that crashed in 2008.

Valuations here drifted down for 5 years, to $1.271 billion in 2013, before starting to grow again.

Scams on the rise
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State Police, West Virginia’s attorney general and even the Division of Motor Vehicles are warning of a new wave of scams coming to a phone or email near you.

The State police’s caution is for scams related to the new Covid relief payments.

“I just went to the dollar store to talk to an old guy who was buying about 10 gift cards to try to warn him,” said Sgt. J.R. Fletcher of the State Police’s Romney Detachment Thursday.

The IRS, which is issuing the payments, will not contact recipients by phone or email. You will not be asked for identification or any up-front money.

If you are not sure about someone contacting you, call the State Police office in Romney at 304-822-3561.

Social Security scams are increasing too, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warns.

He is urging consumers to protect their personal information.

The scam involves unsolicited calls from someone who claims to be with the Social Security Administration. The impostor tells the consumer their account has been frozen or compromised. The caller will sometimes threaten arrest.

The attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division says several West Virginia consumers report having given out their Social Security numbers. Many have reported losses of $3,000 or more.

Some consumers have reported that the impostors already had some of their personal information, such as the last 4 digits of their Social Security number, so they believed it truly was a legitimate call.

 “People who fall prey to this scam often do so because they are scared to lose their Social Security benefits, but that’s a threat scammers use to trick consumers into handing over personal, identifiable information,” Morrisey said.

Impostors may also ask consumers to verify personal information, including their Social Security number, to replace a Social Security card, fix an issue with their online account, process a cost-of-living adjustment or rectify benefits that have been underpaid and need adjustment.

Instead of responding to the unsolicited approach, contact the Social Security Administration yourself. Never make payments using wire transfer, gift cards or cash.

DMV says text message phishing scams are circulating now. The agency says it will never ask for your personal information via text.

DMV says its only text messages are sent after a customer initiates an appointment, and only to serve as a reminder. 

“We never send out unsolicited requests for information,” DMV Commissioner Everett Frazier said.

DMV said it has heard from customers about a text message that reads, “DMV Sent You A New Notice. Read Now.” and includes a link to click. The message is not from DMV and should be ignored and deleted.

Data fix improves county’s status
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Hampshire County’s status in the battle against Covid-19 hasn’t looked this bright in months — thanks to an adjustment by the state in the statistics it keeps.

Hampshire’s status jumped from a mix of yellows and golds to mostly greens over the weekend as the state caught up on a glitch in its accounting.

Some medical offices were only reporting the positive cases they tested to the state, but not the negatives, which artificially raised the infection rate that the state uses to determine how each county is faring in the yearlong fight against the virus.

“Our infection rate has been low,” County Health Director Stephanie Shoemaker said, “and the percent positivity has helped.”

Percent positive measures how many new cases arise out of the number tested. Infection rate is the new active cases as a percentage of the total population.

As of Tuesday morning, the positivity rate was 1.66 percent and the infection rate was 4.93 per 100,000.

“Even with our free weekly testing, we’re only seeing maybe a positive or 2 out of it,” Shoemaker noted.

People who are symptomatic are “doing the responsible thing” and being tested, she said, but many of those turn out to be seasonal allergies, not Covid-19.

Despite the good news on containing the virus here, the Health Department reported 3 Covid-19 deaths last week.

Two of the deaths occurred in January and were just deemed Covid-related by the state. They were an 81-year-old man and an 86-year-old woman at Hampshire Center.

The new death last week was a 75-year-old man from Capon Bridge.

The Health Department does not provide further identifying information to protect family privacy.

Hampshire County’s deaths from Covid-19 stand at 32 and total cases since the pandemic began are at 1,625.

Three new cases were reported Monday bringing the county’s total to 5, with 1 hospitalized.


5          Active cases

1          Hospitalized

1,625   Total

32        Deaths



Hampshire Fairgrounds

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday

History a hurdle to old hospital teardown
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The authority must get the State Historic Preservation Office to approve the demolition of an historic building.

Sandra Scaffidi, owner of Fairmont-based Practical Preservation, reported her assessment of the building at last week’s authority meeting. She found the old hospital’s association with the Hall-Burton Act, which authorized funding for its construction, qualifies it for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Passed by Congress in 1946, the Hill-Burton Hospital Survey and Construction Act provided federal funding for hospital construction in under-served communities across the United States. More than 10,000 Hill-Burton projects funded from 1947 to 1961 brought modern hospital equipment and professionalized patient care to rural America.

Federal law requires steps be taken to preserve historic properties affected by a project using any form of federal funding. Scaffidi pointed out the authority accepted federal funding for the project from the EPA-funded Brownfields Project, with more expected to come from the HUD-funded state Community Development Block Grant program to which the authority applied for funds to demolish the building.

Scaffidi acknowledged that it was possible the state might disagree with her assessment of the building as an historic structure, in which case demolition of the building would be no problem.

Some changes have been made to the hospital building since its construction, replacing the windows and building an addition.

However, she did not think these changes were enough to justify denying the building inclusion in the National Historic Register, and so long as the state agrees that the building has historic significance, the law requires steps be taken to mitigate the loss if the building is to be torn down.

Scaffidi said that a 1st step to be taken to mitigate the loss might be donating the plans for the building to the state historical archives. She urged the development authority to begin taking steps toward mitigation now.

Eventually a memorandum of agreement acknowledging compliance with federal law will be required, and Scaffidi said beginning mitigation measures now would speed the process.

Development Authority Executive Director Eileen Johnson pointed out that aging Hill-Burton hospital buildings all over the country have dealt with the same situation.

Johnson said she looked for precedents and found similar projects approved when the old buildings were demolished to make way for new hospital buildings or schools. Mitigation measures taken included installing plaques, or placing histories of the buildings in local libraries.

The authority’s next step will be submission of Scaffidi’s report to the state, and Johnson thought the state might also suggest further steps the development authority might take.