By Lyra Bordelon
The courthouse expansion, a proposed broadband council, the Meadow River Rail Trail, emergency telecommunicators week, and more were considered by the Greenbrier County Commission during its Tuesday, April 13, meeting.
After a year of COVID-19 precautions, remote meetings, and live streaming of meetings to Facebook, Commission President Lowell Rose opened the commission meeting on a happy note.
“Appreciate everybody coming out today, this is the biggest crowd we’ve had in a year,” said Rose. “Actually, y’all wouldn’t have been here a year ago or five or six months ago because we weren’t allowing anybody in. Anyway, I appreciate everybody coming out today. We’ll be opening up more and more this month as things seem to be changing.”
Shortly before the commission meeting, the Greenbrier County Building Commission met, elected officers, and considered the upcoming courthouse expansion project. As a result of this meeting, the commission approved the first reading of the ordinance approving the leasing of the courthouse to fund bonds.
“Authorizing the leasing of the courthouse as security for the financing of the renovation, rehabilitation project, and construction of the addition to the courthouse through the issuance of bonds of the building commission in the amount of not more than $15 million,” explained attorney John Stump. “This methodology is the same process that we utilized to finance the construction of this annex that we’re in now many years ago.”
The Greenbrier County Building Commission had not “been active for quite some time because we haven’t done any building,” Rose noted, which required the election of officers before the commission could consider the project.
The proposal now goes to second reading before being finalized.
A proposed civilian broadband expansion council brought a number of people to the County Commission meeting, hoping to boost service throughout the area.
“[We worked in] the Greater Greenbrier COVID Task Force over the past year, and we’ve had a couple of people and subgroups spring out of that,” explained Senator Stephen Baldwin, one member of the proposed council. “For example, when we knew folks were having a hard time knowing which food pantries were open or where can I get substance abuse help right now … we put together a resource guide. … We had one subgroup spring up last this winter on broadband. We’ve got business folks who are part of that, healthcare, education, nonprofits, and we all decided we wanted to do what we could to support ongoing efforts.”
Mapping the current broadband infrastructure has already begun in the county with the assistance of Greenbrier County Schools.
“We gave every student a device for grades six through twelve, we worked really hard to do that, but we quickly realized that a lot of parents did not have good internet where they lived,” explained Vicky Cline, Director of Technology and Testing at Greenbrier County Schools. “Even parents who could afford it didn’t have good internet. Broadband has been a huge issue for us.”
A number of prominent Greenbrier County organizations are also represented, such as WVSOM, the Chamber of Commerce, the COnvention and Visitors Bureau, the Public Defender’s office, White Sulphur Library, Open Doors, Robert C. Byrd Clinic, the WVU 4H Extension office, EDC, Meadow River Valley Association, Countrymen Communications, the Greenbrier Valley Airport, and several public representatives. Baldwin noted they have already been in touch with several individuals working on the county’s broadband plan.
“We didn’t have any interest in recreating the wheel, you all created a good wheel, so we spent some time learning from some experts … about how we might be helpful as community members,” Baldwin said.
The commission agreed to more meetings with the group to determine how it could fit into the county’s ongoing broadband expansion efforts. Rose also noted frustration with some existing broadband providers for not further expanding existing infrastructure.
Meadow River Rail Trail Coordinator Matt Ford gave the commission an update on the project before two agreements were signed, a promising development for much needed repairs to the trail. Ford brought a map, explaining that the red dots present along the trail were FEMA repair sites after the June 2016 flood.
“The agreements that you have today, one is for Treadway Dirtworks to complete the clearing and grubbing and the other is for Chapman Technical Group for the engineering services for the FEMA repairs,” explained Ford.
Tincher also noted the FEMA money funding these projects had been held by the Division of Highways until recently. Once the funds were back with the commission, the projects could move forward.
After the meeting on social media, Baldwin also complimented the trail work.
“Shoutout to Matt Ford and Commissioner Tammy Tincher for their hard work on the Meadow River Trail! Matt made a presentation to the Greenbrier County Commission today about the next step in the process. To say this project has been a bureaucratic/red tape nightmare would be an understatement…but Matt and Tammy persevere. We have all the parties working together towards the same goal. Great work, y’all!”
In other business:
– Greenbrier County 911 Director Mike Honaker appraoched the commission to request to fill an empty position in the office. He also explained “this week is emergency telecommunications week across the nation. We’ll be having a luncheon for telecommunicators because of the great work they do and all the dedication to their work and sacrifice. It’s a particular pleasure to help them with some staff issues this week of all weeks. I read yesterday that there are 95,000 911 dispatchers in American and they take 240 million 911 calls a year. I think that speaks volumes about the work they do and the workload they have.”
– The deadline to apply for Greenbrier County Arts and Recreation grants is April 30 by 4 p.m., the close of office hours. Applications can be picked up at the County Commission office, Greenbrier County Courthouse, downloaded at www.greenbriercounty.net or by calling the Greenbrier County Commission office at (304)647-6689.