By Lyra Bordelon
A huge project list, including possible internet expansion, new hires for emergency responder organizations, the Greenbrier County Sportsplex, and courthouse improvements were considered during the Tuesday, October 27, meeting of the Greenbrier County Commission.
Considering bonds “not to exceed $20 million,” the commission voted to move forward on the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) project plan, including on a potential fiber optic cable project that would bring high speed internet to Greenbrier County.
“The commission is considering the extension of fiber optic cable from Beckley all the way to White Sulphur Springs, or potentially coming through a back route through Monroe County to White Sulphur Springs,” explained attorney John Stump. “That would be a trunk line, or a main line, of fiber optic cable. Heavy duty, real thick cable, big pipes, that would dramatically increase speed and access to the internet. The cost on that is not currently known, somewhere approximately $5 to $6 million. … If we go to Beckley or the other route, we’ll be able to tie into the line Facebook is installing, which is already past Beckley.”
Commission President Lowell Rose noted, if the project takes shape, the line would put Greenbrier County in a prime position for the expansion of internet infrastructure in southern West Virginia.
“That gives us the ability to sell access to it – it would belong to the county, paid with the TIF fund, taken in through the TIF district,” Rose said. “We would be able to disperse it throughout the county, into other counties, and sell access, which should offset [at least some] of the costs over time.”
The project is currently in the design phase as part of $15 to $20 million TIF project list – the TIF is a method of subsidizing county infrastructure, economic, and community-improvement projects but redirecting taxes paid to the state government, and allowing them to stay inside of a specified district from which they were paid. In the 1990s, the commission approved a TIF in order to fund the repair and reconfiguration of a wastewater treatment facility in White Sulphur Springs.
“The TIF was put in years ago, when I was on the commission the first time, with the development of the Sporting Club as the source of funding,” Rose explained in 2019 when the renewal plan started to take shape. “That TIF was put in for infrastructure only; the sewer plant in White Sulphur was crumbling, breaking down, sewage was getting into the groundwater, and had to be redone, [so] we did the first TIF. That TIF is coming to a close and we would … need to extend and renew it. … When you do a TIF, the county gives up its increase in taxes in the area, and we also get to capture what the state would get, which is many, many times what we would get. We’re giving up a little bit to get a lot, and if we didn’t do the TIF, that money would all go to the state. … [The purpose] is to capture that money and use it for the projects and the good of the people of Greenbrier County.”
The commission formally approved the bonds for the renewed TIF, and the projects previously established for those funds, during the Tuesday meeting. The exact date of the bond issuance is still uncertain, waiting to be determined after the 2020 election and any potential market upheaval similar to after the 2016 election.
New hires for both the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Office and 911 Center were approved by the commission.
“I have two new hires for [sheriff] deputies,” said Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan. “One is Tyler Hyatt, he is not certified so he would have to attend the academy. The second is Seth Havens, who is currently employed with the White Sulphur Springs police department. He is certified through the academy [but] would have to go through the field officer training program before he could work independently. With these two additions, that would bring us up to our budgeted staffing levels in the sheriff’s department, [for the first time in] three and a half years.”
At the 911 Center, “We have two vacant positions that are currently already funded and in the budget, so this isn’t additional spending or budget increases,” explained 911 Director Mike Honaker. “… We received a little over 35 resumes. … Our staff conducted interviews [and] they recommended two people in particular which were Jessica Surgeon of Caldwell and Donna Jones of Lewisburg.”
In other business:
In addition to approving ongoing expenses associated with the Greenbrier County Sportsplex, approximately $4,200 was approved in a two to one vote (Rose and McClung yea, Tincher nay) for hydroseeding. Rose said the park “had some additional excavation done around the pond area to get some fill material for another area. In doing that, we disturbed the ground, so it had to be reseeded.”
Rose and McClung voted in favor, while Tincher voted against.
The commission approved an American Geotech bid, totaling $9,400, for future work on the Greenbrier County Courthouse. Rose explained “we’re going to add a three story addition to the north end, and then a remodeling of the existing courthouse. [This bid] is for the geotechnical borings to see what the material [around and under the courthouse] is, what type of stone we can encounter.”