The Greenbrier County 2014-2015 fiscal year budget was approved with a vote of 2-1 at Tuesday’s commission meeting with Commissioner Mike McClung opposing. The $11.3 million budget will go to Charleston for approval with the state auditor’s office. A copy will then be available to the public to read at the courthouse. Individual copies can be had at $33.50 each. The commissioners balanced the budget without raising the levy. Greenbrier County has the lowest levy in the state, McClung said, with 2004 being the last time it was raised.
McClung’s dissent with regards to the budget soon became apparent. Acknowledging that his views may not set well with others, he stated that the budget for the “dog kennel” is just too high. The animal shelter receives in the area of $268,525 each year, of which $200,000 goes to the Humane Society. When the non-governmental entities, such as those which provide social services for women, children and the elderly, collectively get less than that given to the animal shelter, he asserted, “our priorities need examining.”
McClung was also concerned that there is no budget to maintain the upkeep for the county courthouse. As the oldest courthouse still in use in the state, he said there needs to be a line item capital improvements account established to effectively keep it maintained. “The building has serious problems,” he said. “It is troubling to me that zero funds have been set aside.”
Commissioners Karen Lobban and Woody Hanna apparently disagreed on both accounts. Lobban said the courthouse building maintenance is not j ust being “patched” up. Improvements are being addressed, she said. She and McClung disagreed upon the wording of whether the commission was mandated to house animals in a shelter or to fund an animal shelter. McClung said the commission was definitely not mandated to have a dog warden. “I am not saying we should do away with the animal shelter,” he said, “but we are not mandated to fund it.”
Commissioner Woody Hanna put it succinctly, “We did not agree on everything in the budget, but we did fund the necessities.”
In other business:
• The commissioners voted to hire an attorney to represent them in the dispute between the commission and the New River Community and Technical College and Foundation over a $1 million allocation ofbed tax funds for the renovation of a swimming pool on the Lewisburg college campus. James C. Stebbins, an attorney with Lewis, Glasser, Casey and Rollins, a Charleston, WV law firm, will replace Prosecuting Attorney Via as the commission’s attorney.
• A public hearing date has been set for the proposed PSD#2 Expansion Area for Apr. 22 at 6 p.m. at the courthouse. Areas to benefit with the expansion are Asbury, Clintonville, Sam Black, Dawson, Williamsburg, Smoot, and Rupert. The primary aim, Commissioner Lobban stated is to encourage business developments in the western end of the county.
• April marks the anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which sought to eliminate discrimination in housing opportunities and to affirmatively further housing choices for all Americans. Susan Rosshirt, executive director of the Greenbrier Housing Authority, spoke before the commission seeking signatures for a Fair Housing Proclamation in support of the ongoing struggle for dignity and housing opportunities for those who are shut out of many communities. Illegal barriers to equal opportunity in housing, no matter how subtle, diminish the rights of all, she stated.
“Affordable housing is not welcomed in many communities,” Rosshirt said. She has heard people decry that their property values would decrease or that their neighborhood might no longer be a safe place to live should affordable homes be installed in their community. She said she is frequently asked, “What kind of people are you going to put in there?” Fair housing means “we cannot discriminate,” Rosshirt affirmed. More support and service agencies are needed in Greenbrier County not only for those in need of affordable housing but also for the elderly.
• April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The commission approved placement of up to 600 pinwheels on the lawn in front of the county courthouse to remind people that abuse is still happening to children in West Virginia. Additionally, the commission signed a proclamation for Crime Victims Awareness Week, Apr. 6 through 12.
“It’s not right to reject public input,” said Greenbrier resident David Witt who brought up the topic of public comment guidelines introduced for consideration at the previous commission meeting. He demanded that the commission “not adopt anything which would disallow the public from speaking at commission meetings.” Witt offered what he called “a history lesson” in which a prior commission member had once fined a citizen and put a lien on his property for speaking out of turn.
On the same topic, Lloyd Burns, a Frankford resident, presented a request that the commissioners sign a petition to protect WV Code 6-9A-3c and the peoples’ right to comment at public meetings. All three commissioners signed the petition as a pledge “to stop the threat and assault on free speech in Greenbrier County.”
Commissioner Hanna offered a written form as an alternative option for citizens seeking answers or had complaints. He said in that way the commission would have time to respond to any individual request. McClung was also unclear about the commission’s requirements for speakers before the commission, to wit: sign in, give topic, identify self, address the commission as a whole, be civil-no personal attacks, and do not discuss anything which can only be discussed in executive session.
Apparently weary of the discussion. Commissioner Lobban said, “Leave it alone. We will let the public comment guidelines remain as they are.”