COMMISSION PRESIDENTS REPORT - Broadband-Cell Phone Concerns, Volunteerism Problems, Budget Crisis

(01/15/2011)

COMMISSION PRESIDENTS REPORT - January 10, 2011

- The Commission on Special Investigations, a special investigatory unit of the WV Legislature, is investigating problems associated with the management of the Mt. Zion Public Service Commission, an investigation that started about September, 2010.

- The Calhoun Commission and Calhoun's three fire chiefs are sending a letter to governor-elect Tomblin and the elected officials representing the county requesting the WV Legislature to address the critical problem of manpower with volunteer fire departments, to revisit proposed solutions that would give incentives for community members to become firemen and help retain them. The statewide problem is reaching critical mass, particularly in rural counties, some of them on the verge of ceasing to operate.

- Efforts to encourage better cell phone service to the county over a three year period have not produced results, with the county offering free tower sites, communication buildings and utilities.

- Calhoun's county employees (and elected officials) have cooperatively sacrificed and taken cuts in operating expenses, benefits and employees have not received one-time bonuses or any pay increases during the last two years in an effort to help the county balance the budget, while continuing to perform their duties, often beyond their reasonable job descriptions.

- Frontier Communications Vice President Mitch Carmichael and General Manager Mike Sims met in the county in early December promising to provide detailed information regarding what improvements and upgrades could be expected for Calhoun citizens in providing broadband services, related to Frontier's 2011 promise to bring broadband to 85% of West Virginia customers. They did not respond.

- WV's regional jail system continues to be a financial problem for county governments, with the state projected to have the highest number of needing incarceration in the US, based on population. While a review of individuals being incarcerated from Calhoun seems necessary and appropriate, the costs place the county budget in disarray.

- Calhoun County Emergency Medical Services have been failing to provide timely monthly financial statements, an action to which they agreed during a public meeting with the commission, after a $40,000 deficit was revealed in their annual audit.

- Calhoun 911/OES has embarked aggressively toward improving radio communications services for county responders, new towers and equipment, after being among the first batch of counties to successfully complete E-911 addressing and mapping in 2010.

- While the county is facing a major financial crunch for operating funds, the commission continues to look at all options to meet the challenge, including an Operating Levy that would be used for the jail bill, correctional costs and other mandated expenses.

The commission decided not to compete with a county school bond to be voted upon in March to build a new Arnoldsburg school and air condition the Calhoun Middle-High School gyms.

Taxes would not be increased with the school bond vote (a current school bond expiring). If county voters approve the school bond, a County Operating Levy would increase taxes. If the school bond fails, a County Operating Levy, if approved by voters, would not increase taxes.

The county faces critical financial shortfalls with the 2011 Budget because it has some of the lowest taxes in the state and eastern seaboard, there are increased costs for services, and a slow-down in state money streams linked to the recession. A large number of citizens receive Homestead Exemption, while the budget faces costly mandates issued by the State of WV. Needless to say, over many years, the county has kept the taxes down because of the poor economy.


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