In a concerted effort to come to a peaceable agreement with the New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) regarding the three-year long, unresolved swimming pool civil action suit, the Greenbrier County Commission agreed in a split decision to present a settlement offer to the college to resolve this disagreement and “move on.”
The offer of $150,000 in arts and rec funds was made in a motion by Commissioner Woody Hanna. Coupled with $180,000 the commission secured from the state to be applied to this project, the combined total comes to $330,000. If accepted, the college, in exchange, has agreed to drop all litigation action against the county.
NRCTC’s suit, filed in Raleigh County, is still pending, and claims the county owes the college $450,000 for contracted renovations per a lease agreement to the Fine Arts and Aquatic Center as originally planned to include a swimming pool.
The last written request from NRCTC was $342,300 to settle the issue. “This offer should be enough to cover the inconvenience this ‘ill-planned project’ has caused the college,” Hanna said.
The update was announced at the Tuesday evening commission meeting followed a mediation meeting held in Beckley on Thursday, Jan. 21, with NRCTC President L. Marshall Washington and Chairman of the Board of Governors David Nalker.
Although an agreement was not reached during the mediation, the college representatives indicated they would accept funding of art and rec projects sponsored by the college as payment, and in exchange would drop all litigation against the county. Washington and Nalker supplied the commission with a list of possible activities.
Hanna stated, as a preamble to his motion, “It is my sincere belief that NRCTC cannot win this suit.” However, he said he would rather give art and rec funds to the college for worthwhile projects that will benefit students than to continue to waste Greenbrier County taxpayers money on legal fees. To date, the commission has spent over $77,000 in legal fees on this case.
“These fees will continue to grow if the case goes to trial,” Hanna said. “This takes place at a time when our county has a very tight budget and an outstanding regional jail expense.”
“We cannot afford to go to trial,” agreed Commissioner Lowell Rose. The added expense, he said, would cause “drastic cuts” to staff and to the organizations annually supported by arts and rec funding. Rose suggested amending the motion with a larger figure to make the offer “more palatable” to NRCTC, but was over-ruled.
As the only commissioner serving the county during the time period in which the pool project was under way, Commission President Mike McClung said he was opposed to the involvement “at every step” of the way. He elaborated on some of the history of the building in question (now known as the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts and Science Building). At one time it was the property of the county, under lease to the Division of Highways. McClung said the county gave 11 of every 12 months’ rent proceeds to the college, and then later gave the building to NRCTC to support the continued growth of the college. When the pool project began heating up, the college offered the building back to the county, bringing the pool issue squarely into the county’s lap.
The history of the legalities between the two parties was complicated by a petition for a writ of mandamus, filed in December of 2012, questioning the use of $1.3 million in arts and rec funds, as well as the legality of the two county commission meetings authorizing said expenditure. By June of 2013, a judge ruled such use of arts and rec funds did not meet code requirements and the two meetings authorizing the funds were held illegally.
Stating that he recognized Hanna’s motion was likely the best cost-effective resolution for the county, McClung held that it wasn’t enough to resolve the issue “for the sake of risk management.” “There ought to be some value in being right.” That said, McClung voted to oppose the offer of $150,000 to the college. The motion passed with a vote of 2-1.
At press time, it remains to be seen how the college will respond.
In other business:
• County Clerk Robin Loudermilk received approval from the commission to permit satellite voting for the western end of the county to be located at the Rupert Community Building beginning Wednesday, Apr. 27, to Saturday, May 7. Hours will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturdays. The primary election will be held on May 16.
• The hotel/motel bed tax collected each year goes to the Greenbrier County Arts and Recreation account to be disbursed to qualified nonprofit agencies and organizations. Application forms will be available on Feb. 1 online at the Greenbrier County official website. Interested parties may submit applications to Arts and Rec Director Roy Grimes at the courthouse. The deadline for the applications is Friday, Mar. 11, at 4:30 p.m. For more information, call Grimes at 304-647-6689.