ROMNEY — Much of Tuesday’s County Commission meeting was spent discussing ways the county might spend $100,000 in state funds it has received to be used for COVID-19 pandemic expenses.
Gov. Jim Justice awarded the money to each county in West Virginia back in April, requiring it be spent by the end of the calendar year. Originally, it was to be used at the discretion of each county.
Since then restrictions have been placed on use of the funds, and Commissioner Dave Parker reported most neighboring counties have been holding onto the money, worried about what might be coming. No one wants to have to pay the money back.
Proceeds from the hotel/motel tax, which are used to support the county Convention and Visitors Bureau, were the only area in which the county has experienced much of a shortfall in revenue so far, and Commission President Bob Hott reported the shortfall has not been as bad as some might think.
In fiscal year 2019 (July 1, 2018 - June 30, 2019) the tax brought in $102,953. In fiscal year 2020 it brought in $86,000, and the 3 months since July 1, the county has collected $20,000.
All 3 commissioners identified the county’s 8 volunteer fire companies as services that urgently need support, given the amount of revenue they have lost due to cancellation of most of their fund-raising activities.
However, Hott reported being told they might not be allowed to use the money to help the volunteers. Commissioner Brian Eglinger said attendees at the state auditor’s training session in August were “explicitly” told they could not use the money to help fire companies, adding that other counties had been leaning toward helping local fire companies too.
County emergency management director Brian “Tad” Malcolm noted that the governor had given $10,000 directly to each volunteer fire department. However, some fire departments in Hampshire County have lost 5 times that much, and strict limitations were placed on the use of what they did receive.
Malcolm, who serves as executive committee chair for the state firefighters’ association, said he had urged the association to ask the governor for help after learning road projects on U.S. 50, including repaving on Cooper Mountain and adding culverts on the hill going down into Romney, were being funded by COVID-19 recovery funds, justified because ambulances use the roads.
The one road project he had asked for, repaving Sunrise Boulevard leading to the hospital, was not approved, though DOH managed to do it anyway.
Parker said there seems to be some hope restrictions might change, since the state legislature is not too happy with the situation.
The commissioners agreed to be cautious at this point, holding onto the money and waiting to see what they will be allowed to do with it. Malcolm predicted there could be trouble in some places “when audits come down the line,” but Hampshire County should be in the clear.
Malcolm also pointed out that the fire levy is on the ballot this fall, leaving the fire companies doubly worried. Passage is essential to their survival.
In other business, the commissioners approved a request from animal shelter director Patsy Weakley to hire an additional full-time employee, while asking for more information on staffing and job requirements.
Weakley is running both the shelter and the adoption program that helps fund it. She is the shelter’s only full-time employee, she said, with one formerly full-time employee now on disability and working only 2 days a week, an animal control officer usually out on calls and a part-time employee who does not want to increase her hours.
A letter in support of a federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant application for funds to replace the sidewalks on the north side of Main Street was approved by the commission, at the request of Romney Mayor Beverly Keadle.
Belinda Sue Kiser, representing a group seeking community control of the Oldtown Bridge, was on the agenda, but failed to appear.