Crime task force, upgrade to Courthouse facade on GCC agenda

By Peggy Mackenzie

The Greenbrier County Commission met on Tuesday with a full agenda. Items on the agenda included:

• County Prosecutor Patrick Via stated he and Sheriff Jan Cahill have long been in discussion about violent crime in the county. He said there are more such cases here than most people would expect. He said they are working on developing a Law Enforcement Task Force. “We have no agency large enough to handle the demands by itself,” Via said. “So we have opted to do it on a multi-agency basis.” He said they want to create a unit of top investigative components using the resources of the sheriff’s department, state police, federal resources and at least one municipal police agency to handle drug-related robberies, assaults, home invasions and child abuse cases where violence is a constant factor. “This will not be a drug task force,” Via said. Each agency will fund their own officers’ requirements. So far, no agency has committed to the task force.

“This will be a tremendous asset for the citizens of Greenbrier County,” Via said.

Although Via said the notice for the task force is premature, the reason he needed to approach the Commission was to request a 90-day commitment to ensure the availability of the Sears kit house adjacent to the Courthouse for the task force. He said he would need that much time to gather the task force together. Commission President Karen Lobban said the Commission had made a commitment to the garden clubs who plan to prepare the house with furniture and other decorative elements in time for the Home and Garden Tour set for Spring 2014. Via said he had no conflict with that and the Commissioners agreed that housing the task force was a “good long-term use of the building.”

Once that detail was settled, Via then asked for permission to have a separate cable line placed in the Courthouse for the Prosecutor’s Office exclusive use. He said it will allow remote access to the files, which he called “a virtual private network.” That cable line was approved.

• The Greenbrier Economic Development Corporation (GEDC), as the designated lead economic development organization in the county, was approved for a grant with the WV Development Office. Steve Weir, executive director of GEDC, had much to say about their efforts assisting the needs of the business community of Greenbrier, Monroe and Pocahontas Counties by providing a variety of services such as business financing, general and technical assistance, site selection to new and existing businesses. Weir was enthusiastic in promoting the Greenbrier Valley Local Foods Initiative which is designed to support local projects and organizations so as to increase economic return to the farmers of Pocahontas, Greenbrier and Monroe Counties.

• The front of the Courthouse facing North Court Street will get a facelift now that the bell tower cupola has been completed. Since the county is still under contract with Allegheny Restoration, the firm that restored the cupola, the Commission agreed to retain them to complete the restoration and painting of the front gable over the massive columns, the round window within the gable and the columns themselves. The cost has been reduced to $7,000. Allegheny Restorations will work after hours so as not to interfere with daily business at the Courthouse.

• A Hazard Mitigation grant application was approved for which three properties will be bought out and the structures demolished. Kelly Banton, clerk to the Commission, stated the land is then leased and managed by a leasee. Funds for the buyouts are secured by FEMA at 75 percent and at 25 percent by the state.

• The Commission approved contracts for Community Participation grant projects for Greenbrier County 4-H Camp ($4,500), and Child and Youth Advocacy Center Facility ($2,000).

• The contract with Greenbrier Valley Farmers’ Market was approved for renewal for 2014. Pam West was in attendance to say the market has five new vendors and two more vendor applicants. The season this year, she said, was a success.

Commission member Woody Hanna recused himself from the vote because his son is a vendor with GVFM.

• A Proclamation for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day on Sept. 14 was read by Steve Cook with The Hope Coalition of Greenbrier County. A Walk for Suicide Prevention will be held on Sept. 14 along a one-mile stretch through Rainelle. The Walk is an annual event hosted by the Hope Coalition of Greenbrier County to promote the awareness of resources and preventive measures and to offer hope and healing to survivors of suicide loss. Check-in begins at 10 a.m. The walk will begin at 11 a.m. Cook asked, “Please bring an item for the memory table to honor those we have lost.” Donations for the event will be received the day of the walk. An event T-Shirt will be given for a minimum donation of $10.

• Commissioner Hanna said six applicants have applied for the part-time animal control position for the county. He moved to table the topic until the next commission meeting on Sept. 10 to allow time for interviews.

• Commissioners Lobban and Hanna urged Greenbrier County farmers to file for their annual Farm Credit with the County Assessors Office at the Courthouse before the deadline of Sept. 3. So far, Hanna said, only 50 farmers have filed, leaving approximately 400 to 500 still unfiled. Taxes on farmland will be doubled if the deadline is not met. Lobban said if you have misplaced your filing papers, the Assessors Office will be happy to help out.

• The Commission went into a brief (20 minute) executive session with attorney Via to discuss the New River Community and Technical College lease and the county’s pending request for the return of $1.3 million given to the college late last year by former Commissioner Betty Crookshanks toward the Aquatic Center on the school campus. In the court hearing which followed, the judge ruled the $1.3 million to the college was an inappropriate use of Arts and Rec funds, which must be replaced. In an attempt to get around the ruling, Crookshanks had held an emergency meeting in which she reassigned the funds to go to the college to be used for “the Fine Arts building.” Commissioner Hanna stated that that meeting had been declared an illegal meeting so anything proposed in that meeting was null and void. The Commission has recently received a letter from the state Attorney General’s office suggesting the GCC enter into mediation with the college. The funds, as Hanna went on, must be replaced, and so attorney Via will send a letter to the college through the Attorney General’s office demanding “in the strongest terms” the return of the Arts & Rec funds.