Passed unanimously at the Tuesday County Commission meeting, SB-298, or the so-called Brunch Bill, will be added to the November ballot to give the Greenbrier County public the option to move the start of Sunday alcohol sales from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m.
In late March, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the bill into law with the intent of improving the overall tourism experience for those visiting the state. Supporters say passing the bill would bring West Virginia in line with neighboring states.
“I’m just asking for a level playing field,” said Stuart Brugh, owner of Stuart’s Smokehouse near Alderson, who was among several business owners at the commission meeting to promote the brunch bill. Brugh said his business depends heavily on out-of-town visitors to the Greenbrier River during the summer months. Many municipalities are beginning to adopt the brunch bill within their city limits, Brugh said. As the Smokehouse is not located within any township, he said he would lose business to other places “just five miles down the road,” unless the county puts the issue to the public vote.
Brugh’s views were echoed by other business owners. Failing to add the bill to the ballot could threaten the survival of their businesses. “More business means more income, and that means more jobs,” he said.
Larry Kline, representing The Greenbrier Sporting Club, also urged the commission to put the vote to the people, as did Smooth Ambler Spirits Director of Sales John Foster, who said most states now allow and encourage serving alcohol to the Sunday morning brunch crowd.
Pedro Gonzales, another community businessman, put it simply, “It is not appealing or hospitable to guests to say no.”
Commissioner Lowell Rose held that drinking early on a Sunday morning was not why visitors come to Greenbrier County. He didn’t think the bill would affect many businesses except The Greenbrier resort.
“The issue is not whether we three agree with the merit of the bill,” stated Commission President Mike McClung. “It’s whether or not to place it on the ballot. If we are a government of the people, then why not let them decide?”
Commissioner Woody Hanna complimented the legislature for allowing the public to decide the issue in the November elections. There will be a good turnout, he said, giving people the opportunity to scrutinize the bill. He moved to place the brunch bill on the November ballot “for the citizens of Greenbrier County to dispense alcohol after 10 a.m. on Sundays.” The vote to put the bill on the ballot was unanimous.
In other business:
• The “swimming pool litigation issue” was raised once again as the commission grappled to reach a settlement with the New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) in the pending civil action case.
Rose stated he was of the opinion that it would be better to simply pay the settlement amount to the college and bring this long-standing dispute between the county and NRCTC to a close. McClung was less open to that option, stating he had no reason to act in such good faith in dealing with NRCTC. Hanna’s approach was to suggest appealing to NRCTC President Dr. L. Marshall Washington to submit different expenditures more in line with the state code requirements of the bed tax.
To meet the settlement agreement of $162,000, the college had previously offered a list of course programs as qualified bed tax expenditures. However, according to the county’s advisory committee, the programs submitted do not qualify with the use definitions for bed tax monies. The commission appealed to the state auditor’s office for an opinion of the issue, but have yet to hear from director Ora Ash. The option to file against the auditor’s office to force an opinion gained no traction, and so Hanna’s motion to send a letter to the college to submit additional programs was the only available action to pursue was approved unanimously.
• According to Greenbrier County grant writer Doug Hylton, the Meadow River Trail will soon be completed and have a trail head in Rainelle. CSX is negotiating with both Greenbrier and Fayette counties to release the final 6.9 miles of rail line on the old Nicholas/Fayette railway. The Meadow River Trail had been termed “the trail to nowhere,” but now will make Rainelle the connection point between the two counties.
Hylton requested the commission sign the purchase agreement and approve allocation of $52,000 from the arts and recreation fund, covering the payment from both counties. He said the cost is to be split between the two counties 50/50, but he was asking the Greenbrier commissioners to pay the entire amount before he approaches the Fayette commission, which will then refund Greenbrier. The commissioners opted, instead, to approve payment of $26,000, the Greenbrier County portion, in order to move the CSX negotiations along, and because Fayette County is dealing with financial woes. Hylton said he would be meeting with Fayette commission later in the week to seek the funds to complete the negotiations for the extension of the Meadow River Trail.
• Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Al Whitaker received approval of a $5,000 grant for new computers and to expand and update the programs in the department. Whitaker also presented the new digitized map for the approved fire boundaries for Greenbrier County. He said all areas are now covered, including Smoot, which was recently certified. The State Fire Commission approval of county fire boundaries will have an effect on insurance ratings for property owners, Whitaker said.
• County board appointments and or reappointments were noted as follows: Mike Rose – Airport Authority Board; Bonita Yates-Sienkiewitz – Arts & Rec Committee; Jann Holwick and Jack Tuckwiller – Board of Zoning Appeals; Mike Elzroth – Solid Waste Authority; Hanno Kirk and Courtney Merritt-Jesser – Planning Commission.
• The commission approved and signed proclamations for two Greenbrier County properties into farmland preservation. The commission is in the process of buying the development rights for the Hanson property on north 219 and the Bartlett-Lavender property in Renick as required by the Voluntary Farmland Protection Act (VFPA) passed in 2000. This act gives counties and the state authority to develop and fund local farmland protection programs, which typically involves a voluntary sale by a landowner of the right to develop the farmland. Following the purchase, the purchaser (often a government or a land trust) would retire the property, as an effort to prevent the loss of farmland in West Virginia.
• In order to bring the county in line with the state, the county building code will reflect the state building code updates, effective Aug. 1, 2016, mandating anyone with a contractor’s license to upgrade their certification with continuing education by July 1, 2016.
• “It’s all about the kids and growing your own garden,” announced Rainelle Mayor Andrea Pendleton, as she promoted the Down on the Farm Festival event on Saturday, June 25, in Rainelle. Farm animals and kids are invited to be in the parade starting at 10 a.m. on Greenbrier Avenue, to include cows, horses, dogs, wagons, tractors – you name it, maybe chickens too. Ronald McDonald will definitely be there, Pendleton said. An amusement carnival, music, food and entertainment will complete the festivities at the Rainelle Army Reserve.