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Letter imperfect
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Frustrations abound with mail, but not the carriers

On Monday morning “about a thousand” packages landed at the Romney Post Office for delivery that day.

“That’s the most we’ve seen, even before Christmas,” acting Postmaster Angel Knepper said.

They were mostly packages that were to be Christmas presents 10 days earlier and they’re probably just the first of more to come.

Mail delivery here and across the nation is falling woefully behind and nobody is happy about it — not postal officials, not letter carriers, not shippers and certainly not the homes and businesses that are looking for bills and packages and other mail.

“We’re frustrated just as much as our customers are,” said Sinikka Melvin, president of the Clarksburg Area Local (which includes Hampshire County) of the American Postal Worker Union. “Our clerks deal with the frustrated public every day.”

Like with Gloria McKee. “Still haven’t received our electric bills...and payment is due January 7,” she lamented late last week.  

When the Review asked Facebook users for examples of what they’re experiencing with postal delivery, answers came in faster than 1 a minute. By week’s end, 260 people had sounded off and most were unhappy.

“My mother mailed me and my siblings a card all the same time,” posted Jenni Lewis; “still have not gotten it even though my sister in Nevada got hers.”

Knepper puts the blame for the backlog squarely on the U.S. Postal Service’s distribution centers, particularly the one in Baltimore where all mail from Hampshire County gets routed — even if it’s being sent from and delivered to the same town.

“It’s 100 percent currently the processing facilities,” she said. “The mass volume we’ve had to encounter has kind of locked up our facilities.”

Covid, she said, compounded the already busy holiday season by pouring more packages into the system while at the same time sapping the postal service of workers.

Extra help that was added for the holidays ended up simply covering for year-round employees who were quarantined with the virus.

Just before Christmas, the Washington Post reported, nearly 19,000 of the agency’s 644,000 workers were under quarantine after testing positive for the virus or having a close exposure.

Covid has hit close to home with the Postal Service. Knepper said 1 employee at the Romney office has tested positive and quarantined. To the good fortune of the rest of the staff, the case was detected while the employee was on assignment elsewhere and didn’t touch the rest of the staff.

Knepper said the issue is particularly bad at Baltimore, but not isolated to that regional sorting facility.

“It’s nationwide,” she said. “It’s Virginia, it’s Ohio, it’s California. It’s everywhere.”

Melvin said organizational cutbacks initiated by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in the summer have hamstrung efforts. One head-scratching change: closing some post offices at lunchtime, “their busiest hour,” Melvin noted.

One part of the postal operation that folks here mostly praise is the work of individual carriers.

“We have a awesome mailman working his butt off,” Kristin Mumpower said. “If you see Josh Moreland in Romney, be sure to thank him for his hard work.”

And Shelby Ortt, whose brother, sister, mother and stepfather are all letter carriers, had this to say: “The service may not always be fantastic, but if your package and/or mail is running late, it is most likely not the carrier’s fault.”

Knepper fears that between cutbacks and America’s increasing love with Internet shopping, “this may be the new normal.”

“It’s really frustrating,” she said, “especially when you’re looking at a stack that’s taller than you.”

Virus claims Shanks couple
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A Shanks couple who had been married 60 years died of Covid-19 within a day of each other this weekend.

Avery Kesner was 78 when she died Saturday and her husband, Albert “Brooks” Kesner was 79 when he died on Sunday.

Both were residents at hard-hit Hampshire Center at the time of their passing, making them the 3rd and 4th people there to die of complications from Covid-19. Last week the facility reported 41 active cases among residents and 21 more among staff.

Their deaths bring to 17 the number of Hampshire County residents whose lives have been taken by the virus.

The new year ushered in another grim milestone in pandemic. The county topped 1,000 total cases on Dec. 30 and just 5 days later, on Monday afternoon, the total stood at 1,111.

Nine people are hospitalized among the 159 active cases.

The other Covid-related deaths the Health Department announced last week included a 71-year-old woman from Romney, a 56-year-old woman from Points Saturday and a 56-year-old man from Purgitsville who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore last week.

The Health Department does not offer more identifying information about Covid victims to protect individual privacy.

Vaccines Saturday for 80-plus crowd
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Vaccinations for Covid-19 are spreading methodically through Hampshire County and the entire state.

The County Health Department will be vaccinating 100 people age 80 or older next Tuesday (Jan. 12) and Thursday (Jan. 14).

“d,” Health Director Stephanie Shoemaker said Tuesday morning.

Now the Health Department has 150 doses that it will give to those 80 and over on a first-come, first-serve basis starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at Hampshire High School. Gates will not open until 9. 

In addition, work is underway to vaccinate school staff, starting with those over 50, before students return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

“I hope 100 percent of [school personnel] come, because it is just that important,” Gov. Jim Justice said Monday.

Shoemaker said more vaccination clinics for the elderly will be added in January, but she has to wait until she has supplies coming before she can schedule them.

The open vaccinations are by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call the Health Department at 304-496-9640.

Acceptance of the Covid-19 vaccine appears to be growing.

An unscientific poll by the Review on its Facebook page showed nearly 60 percent saying they planned on being vaccinated. About 12 percent said they were undecided and just under 30 percent said they would not.

“If I wasn't teaching, I would prefer to wait a bit, but now I would like the vaccine as soon as possible,” Allison McCormick posted on the Review’s Facebook page.

West Virginia will begin administering second doses of the Covid-19 vaccines this week, Justice said.

Shoemaker said some first responders in Hampshire County are getting their 2nd doses this week, on Thursday and Friday.

The state has received about 87,000 doses for first shots, and about 16,000 for second doses, and has administered over 52,000 vaccines, Justice said. West Virginia is now about 5th nationally in giving vaccines, after leading the nation at the beginning of the rollout.

Dr. Clay Marsh, leader of the state's Covid-19 fight, said the state will adhere to the protocols for administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rather than diverting in a bid to try to get more people vaccinated more rapidly the first time.

Some states are suggesting half doses to spread initial coverage further and some are considering mixing the 2 – a dose of Pfizer one time and Moderna the other.

Marsh said state officials believe following the protocols is key in creating an immune response of over 90 percent.

The state now has a COVID-19 vaccine information line: 1-833-734-0965.

10 burning questions for 2020
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Local stories to keep an eye on in 2020

The biggest news always pops up ­­­when we least expect it. That surprise element is sort of the essence of news.

But there are also stories that don’t just erupt. They keep perking along.

Here are 10 of those that we expect to emerge or wrap up in 2020. Consider yourself forewarned and forearmed.


Who will be the new principal at Hampshire High School?

After several years as principal of HHS, DiAnna Liller sent a note to staff in early December saying that she would be leaving the school by at least the year’s end, or sooner if she found employment elsewhere. An additional statement by Liller added a little more detail, saying, “I stand firm for what I believe is right.”

Liller has been principal at HHS since 2017, replacing Camella Hardinger. Her statement expressed gratitude toward the staff at HHS and the community, and called her time as principal “an unbelievable experience that I will never forget.”

The question that HHS students, teachers, staff and the rest of the Hampshire County community have for 2020 is an obvious one: who will replace Liller as HHS principal?

When will Hampshire’s first home game on the turf be played?

The Rannells field turf project launched in June, and while HHS athletic director Trey Stewart was optimistic about raising 1000 units (donations of $5 a month) in time for construction to begin in November after soccer and football season were finished, the number of units raised has not yet exceeded 850.

Once 1000 units are raised, construction on the Sprinturf field and the rubberized track can begin.

Since its inception, the turf and track project has been the talk of the county, leading members of the community wondering when exactly construction will begin on the project itself. After clearing up the concerns that the Hampshire County Board of Education had regarding the maintenance costs of the field and the use of zero school board dollars toward the project, progress is slowly but surely continuing toward 1000 units and a new athletic facility.

There are a still a few hurdles between now and the HHS athletic teams’ debuts on the new and improved Rannells Field, but the question remains, when will the first home game be?


Will Capon Bridge have a functioning kitchen by fall?

Capon Bridge Middle School found itself in a tough situation in July, when testing revealed that sewer lines from the kitchen bypassed a grease trap and were also severed. The CBMS kitchen has been closed since then, and the meals are currently being prepared at Capon Bridge Elementary and transported to the middle school to feed the student body every day.

The repairs would cost about $145,580, and as of yet there has been no decision about School Building Authority funds going toward fixing the CBMS kitchen.

Since the kitchen will be out of commission for the rest of this school year, the big question remains, will the CBMS kitchen be fixed over the summer, so that when kids return in the fall, food won’t have to be transported from the elementary school?

Superintendent Jeff Pancione said last week that if the SBA does not fund the repair, then the county would have to find the funds itself.

Will Capon Bridge finally get a mayor?

Capon Bridge has not had a mayor since July 1. Steve Sirbaugh had been running for reelection as the sole candidate when he decided to drop out of the race in March, saying he wanted to take a break for a while.

Though there was still over a month during which someone could have decided to file as a write-in candidate, no one stepped forward to do so, leaving the mayor’s office vacant.

Town Recorder Laura Turner took over the mayor’s duties, as the state requires. The town council should then have appointed someone to serve until the next election, but the only candidate suggested was Steve Sirbaugh. This idea was strongly opposed by council members who felt Sirbaugh should not be appointed to an office for which he had refused to run.

With Turner filling the position capably, nothing more was done. As filing for the next election approaches (January 13-26), Turner has not said whether she will file for mayor or for re-election as town recorder.

Last year everything looked normal in January, with 2 council members and the mayor running unopposed for reelection. Then the mayor withdrew and no one else chose to run for mayor - though 4 write-in candidates filed for town council, and 2 of them won.

What will happen this year?


Will this be the year the ambulance fee sees its first increase?

The $100 ambulance fee was imposed in 2018 to make 2 ambulances and a chase car with a paramedic available to county residents 24 hours a day. Of the $1.2 million in anticipated revenue, $1 million would cover staff salaries, with fees charged for transport to a hospital helping with other expenses.

Not all has gone as planned. Unable to attract enough paramedics for 24/7 coverage, the county pays Valley Health an estimated $170,000 per year for daytime coverage, and since May ambulance fees have been used to pay the bill. Ambulance fees are also being used to take people who have not paid their fees to court.

At the December county commission meeting, Terry Puffinburger complained about the ambulances the agency has been using, saying he had “mechanical issues with pretty much everything.” He got permission to buy a new ambulance — a $210,422 demo model that should be good for 5 years before needing its chassis replaced, since county ambulances drive about 40,000 miles a year.

Running an ambulance service is expensive, and payments received for transporting patients to hospitals are limited by Medicaid and insurance regulations, and by the inability of many people to pay. Even the rescue squads, with no salaries to pay, need financial support from their communities.

The ambulance fee has so far remained at $100, but at some point it is likely to increase. Will it be this year, and if so, by how much?


How many incumbents will be returned to office locally?

The short answer? A bunch — but not all.

Sheriff John Alkire can’t run for a 3rd term; state law prohibits it. County Commissioner Dave Parker says he’s in for now, but might not file if he thinks there’s a good candidate out there who could replace him.

In May, voters will choose 2 school board members (the terms of Bernie Hott and Bonnie Wilcox), 2 magistrates (Ron DiCiolla and John Rohrbaugh) and a soil conservation commissioner (John Hicks). Those are all nonpartisan positions.

They’ll also select candidates in party primaries — county commission (Parker), sheriff (Alkire), prosecutor (Betsey Plumer), auditor (Norma Wagoner), House of Delegates (Ruth Rowan and Daryl Cowles) and State Senate (Craig Blair). The primary winners face off in November.


Will West Virginia be reduced to 2 seats in Congress next December?

Probably. It’s a matter of math.

The total U.S. population in the April census is projected to be 334.5 million. That makes for just under 770,000 people in each of 435 congressional districts.

West Virginia’s population will likely stay right around 1.8 million, which would make for 3 districts of about 600,000 each or 2 of 900,000.

When the census numbers are published near the end of the year, the Mountain State is most likely to lose a district so states that are gaining population can add them.

Projections right now call for Texas to add 3 seats in the House of Representatives and Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina to each add 1.

West Virginia won’t be alone in losing a seat. California, Rhode Island, New York and the 5 upper Midwest states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota are all expected to lose a seat in the House.


Will next fall’s buck season be better than the one just completed and 2018?

The guy who knows says a better 2020 is a pretty good bet.

Big game biologist Rich Rogers of DNR’s Romney office noted that the 2019 buck season was suppressed because of 3 factors.

Abundant mast meant the deer didn’t have to venture far afield. Warm, moonlit nights also kept them deep in the woods. And the start of buck season was the latest it can be — and far away from the rut.

“They were fat and lazy and didn’t move around,” he observed last month.

But this coming fall?

“There will be holdover bucks for next year,” Rogers promised.


Will school be done on May 28 as schedule?

More likely than not.

Not to jinx things, but the winter is turning out mild as the extended forecast shows. That means fewer days to make up.

And the county has 2 new ways of accounting for the missed time.

One is something called “accrued time.” That’s the extra minutes that the school day here runs beyond the state minimum requirement. Those extra minutes can be banked to account for some missed days.

The second is a throwback to the 1980s — snow packets. If school is called off, students can be told to complete packets that were sent home with them. Those count as days fulfilled.


Will Jim Justice finally visit Hampshire County, even if it’s a campaign stop?

Don’t count on it.

The Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican-again has passed through Hampshire County (maybe twice), but never bothered to stop here.

He’s running for re-election and expects to win the county handily, even though he got only 30 percent of the Hampshire vote in 2016. But that was when he was running as a Democrat.

Justice finds his way to the Eastern Panhandle rarely, and that primarily translates into Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Call Hampshire a flyover county.

Josh Arnold: ‘People don’t forget how you make them feel’
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Community aid topped his menu in 2020

That’s Josh Arnold’s philosophy, and how he’s applied that philosophy to his work has made him a standout in Hampshire County for his generosity to the community and one of the Review’s most inspiring people of 2020.

 Arnold, owner of Lost Mountain BBQ Company in Romney, has called his efforts in the community “good business,” but the matter-of-fact, industrious exterior isn’t fooling anyone. There’s real need here in Hampshire, and Arnold knows it.

Throughout the year, Arnold and the BBQ crew have given back to the community seemingly at every turn, raising money and awareness for Anthony Voit, a HHS student facing Hodgkin's Lymphoma, offering a percentage of the proceeds to the Trojan Athletic Association, donating art supplies to the area schools and, most recently, partnering with the Romney First United Methodist Church to provide Thanksgiving dinners for around 500 folks in the community who might need it this holiday season.

And in the spring, Arnold donated a check for $2,475 to Hampshire County Relay for Life in memory of his sister, Katie, who passed away in 2014.

It’s an impressive list of Arnold’s work in the community, but he said when he started his business, his goals were “modest.”

“This whole BBQ thing has been a series of revelations,” he admitted. “That 1st year, my sales were literally pennies compared to now. There was 1 event that really gave me the foundation of what was to come.”

That year, Arnold said he met a couple that lost their child to illness and he wanted to help.

“Losing my own child as she slept as an infant was one of my biggest fears, so I empathized immediately,” he said. “I put a call to action post on Facebook and set up my little joint as a collection point for donations to help.”

Arnold called what happened next “overwhelming.” Folks from all over the community donated money, around $875.

“Since then, I’ve come to embrace the philosophy that we as a community are only as strong as the least fortunate,” Arnold said. “We all do better when we all do better.”

This past year, Lost Mountain has been committed to helping the community do better, especially in the spring when Covid hit Hampshire.

“Covid has left a void on so many levels when it comes to community support,” Arnold said. “Organizations that spearhead events that bolster their ability to lend aid have been stifled by restrictions. Something had to be done. People were in need.”

Through the little Romney BBQ joint, Arnold described that aid came not just from within the community he seeks to help, but from outside places as well.

“What happened was amazing. People that weren’t even from our area would give generously and then message or call me to express their admiration for the efforts we were taking in our small town,” he described. “It gave me confidence to try new and fun ways to spark people’s generosity, and it worked.”

Arnold’s bottom line is simple: people are generally good and want to help others, he said, and he’s aiming to make it easy for them to do so.

“People rarely remember what you said. People rarely remember what you did,” Arnold added. “But people don’t forget how you make them feel.”

When folks that pass through Romney stop at Lost Mountain, Arnold said he aims to make an impression, whether with the food, the opportunity for donations to a good cause, the customer service or even just a friendly greeting.

“When travelers think back to their visit to Romney, or talk about their trip with their friends, they will surely mention (Lost Mountain BBQ),” Arnold pointed out. “And that is next-level marketing.”