By RACHEL C. DOVE
WILLIAMSON - A variety of organizations and non-profit groups were present for the Wednesday morning meeting of the Mingo County Commission, with requests for funding and other forms of assistance.
Greg “Hootie” Smith filled in for Commission President John Mark Hubbard who was absent from the meeting, directing and overseeing the proceedings. Commissioner David Baisden was also present.
Lenore Volunteer Fire Chief Jeff “Skip” Ferris informed the commissioners that everything was going well at his firehouse since they added an ambulance station in his department that accommodates STAT Ambulance personnel, providing a quicker response time for the residents of Lenore, Laurel Creek, Dingess and the East Fork of 12 Pole.
“Everything is going great,” stated Ferris. “We’ve had a positive response from the public, they have all expressed relief that an ambulance is now stationed closer to their communities.
“The STAT employees have been very respectful of our station and our equipment, and they take care of the facilities.”
Ferris requested and was granted financial assistance for an amount for to settle a debt for past-due worker’s compensation premiums through Brick Street, and for the purchase of two portable carbon monoxide monitors, which together, totaled $2,131.
The chief also addressed Emergency Services Jarrod Fletcher, questioning when they expected for the new repeater tower to be installed in a location close to the Dingess Tunnel, and was told that everything should be in place and ready for use in a few short months.
Ferris also commented on the soon to be opened first-ever shooting range in the county, which will be located adjacent to the entrance to the Laurel Lake swimming facilities. The chief said everyone was looking forward to having a place for target practice.
“Even our law enforcement officers really have no location to practice shooting, and they have to recertify every year,” commented Smith. “I know we also have an abundance of hunters in the Tug Valley area that will definitely utilize this facility.”
Donna May approached the commission on behalf of the Matewan Massacre Reenactment, requesting $2,500 to purchase two units of portable seating to accommodate those who attend the reenactment plays.
“We think this going to be a banner year for us,” stated May. “We had ten performances last year and we expect to exceed that.”
“May 19, there will be two performances at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and this will be a special day for us because it’s the actual anniversary of the massacre. We’re expecting Gov. Tomblin to attend if all goes well, along with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall and others.”
May told the commissioners that Buddy Jones, the only known survivor of the massacre who was only eight years old at the time celebrated his 100th birthday recently, and plans to attend the anniversary reenactment.
“We need to embrace our history and I encourage anyone who hasn’t attended one of our performances to come out and be with us,” said May. “It’s not just Matewan history, its Mingo history. This massacre could have taken place anywhere.”
Ernie Chambers, Kermit Chief of Police, asked the commission for a 1998 Ford F-150 that was seized as part of a drug raid by the sheriff’s dept. a few years ago. Chambers stated that to his understanding, the truck had sat idle for a while and was then utilized by the county dog warden until approximately one-and-a-half years ago, when it was once again parked.
“My department could really use this vehicle,” said the chief. “Legally, we need the consent of the sheriff before we can sign this title over to the town of Kermit since it was part of a drug forfeiture,” stated Smith. “As soon as Sheriff Hannah signs off on this, we can transfer ownership.”
A little further into the meeting, comments were made by a few in attendance that the sheriff was refusing to release the vehicle to Kermit, and had this comment when questioned about the matter.
“I did not say I wouldn’t let the Kermit Police Department have the truck,” said the sheriff. “What I said was that when you seize a vehicle during a drug raid, it is either supposed to be auctioned off to the public or utilized by police agencies for crime investigations involving drugs. I asked Chief Chambers if it would be used for that purpose and he told me no.”
Sheriff Hannah stated that he would speak with the proper authorities to see what he was allowed to do regarding state regulations, and if he is cleared to do so, would gladly relinquish the pickup truck to Chambers.
“Actually, I went a step further today, after telling Chambers that this truck is not in good condition,” commented Hannah. “I told him our department is getting ready to purchase two new cruisers with funds from our concealed weapons fund, and will be more than happy to give the town of Kermit one of the cruisers we are now using that will be replaced.
“We know Kermit needs another cruiser, and I was already planning to approach them with this offer before the discussion of the truck even came about.”
The pastor of the Matewan United Methodist Church, Ron Accord and members Fred and Johnny Estep made a request for financial assistance for a children’s program called “Sunday Funday”, they intend to host for area youth that don’t otherwise get the opportunity to be exposed to a church setting.
“We need to reclaim our youth, show them the path to God,” said the pastor. “Drugs are destroying the young people; it has touched everyone that you meet in some manner.”
“Our churches need to roll up their sleeves and work together to turn our young people around and steer them onto the right path,” stated Smith. “Although we can’t use county dollars to help you with this program, we will personally donate to try to assist you, and we encourage others to do the same.”
Williamson Police Chief Dave Rockel spoke to the commissioners, requesting funding to assist in the purchase of a police cruiser to replace one that was totaled in an accident. Rockel explained that with the insurance reimbursement for the one that was wrecked, they have half the amount they need to purchase a used cruiser. Commissioner Smith asked Rockel to bear with them for a few weeks, as they reviewed their budget and also formulate a possible plan between the county and the city to partner on a few projects. Rockel agreed to this request.
“I want to take a moment to tell you how thankful we are that you’re health has improved and that you’re doing so well, and we want to congratulate you on the fine job you are doing as police chief,” said Smith. “You are to be greatly commended for your efforts and dedication.”
Jeremy and Brandy Cline of Delbarton approached the commission with a request that the county pay them the sum of $1,188.26, the estimated price they had been told it would take to complete repairs to their vehicle that was allegedly damaged 2 months ago in the parking lot of Canada’s Grocery in Delbarton. The accident was said to have occurred when Mingo County deputy M.J. Miller reportedly backed his cruiser into their car.
“The deputy asked us to not file a claim, saying he wanted to pay us himself,” stated Baisden. “I agreed to his request because I didn’t want to cause him problems or get him in trouble, but I did ask for a state trooper to come and write up an accident report just to be safe.”
“I’m glad I did because as of today, I’ve yet to receive payment from the deputy, and he hasn’t returned any of my phone calls either.”
Commissioner Smith requested that either Sheriff Hannah or the chief field deputy be present while a decision in the case was made. A copy of the accident report signed by WVSP Sgt. Dotson was reviewed, and after consulting with Sheriff Hannah, the decision was made to pay the amount requested by the Baisden family.
The ruling was made with the conditions that the sheriff’s department would reimburse the commission, and would in turn, be reimbursed by the deputy at fault. The sheriff said he had only gained knowledge of the accident in recent days, after receiving a copy of the accident report from the commission secretary.
Other topics discussed include the 911 wrecker services call list, bids for a tractor that could possibly be utilized by the county and municipalities, as well as grant reports and information that was provided by County Grant Writer and Project Manager, Leann Ray.
The next regularly scheduled meeting for the county commission will be Wednesday, March 27, at 9 a.m.