Broadband was a Hot Topic at Pocahontas Commission Meeting
At their January 19th meeting, the Pocahontas County Commissioners established the county Broadband Council and appointed the following to it.
- Commissioner Jesse Groseclose
- Mike Holstein
- Sarah Riley
- John Tuggle
- Mayor Sam Felton
- Amy Truesdale
- Ruth Bland
- Cara Rose
- Ruthana McNeel Beezley
- Pete Monico
- Sarah Guyette
- And Terrell McSweeny
The Broadband Council was created in an effort to jump start the disappointing progress so far in the county’s efforts to obtain a Federal Broadband implementation Grant. Commissioner Jesse Groseclose explained that there has been an interest by those named to the committee to work on this and bring their efforts together as a committee serving directly under the County Commission. Mike Holstein, of the Green Bank Observatory, addressed the commissioners about this. He told them that the committee will attempt to obtain other grants and explore other opportunities to secure badly needed high speed internet service throughout the entire county.
The commission also voted to authorize a payment of eight thousand, three hundred dollars ($8,300) from their approved seventy-five thousand dollar ($75,000) Broadband Study Grant to pay their engineer.
Later in the meeting, John Tuggle, of the Region IV Planning and Development Council updated the commissioners on the status of that Broadband Study Grant. Tuggle said that sixty-three thousand dollars ($63,000) still remains available in the study grant. He also said while they have not yet seen the approval of federal grants the county applied for to bring broadband to Pocahontas County, the remaining Study Grant funds can be used by the new Broadband Council to explore other grants and opportunities. He added that while the Federal grants they had been seeking to bring broadband here did not work out as hoped for, other Region IV counties did get approved over the past several months. He was asked why Frontier Communications, a company with a very bad reputation for providing broadband, was approved by the Federal Government to provide broadband to West Virginia, Tuggle answered that Frontier already owns the poles which are already in place that can be used to string high-speed fiber-optic lines on, which is an advantage they hold over possible competitors. Because broadband is not regulated by the government, it cannot force Frontier to allow the use of their poles by other companies, which leaves Frontier with a big competitive advantage.
Additionally, the commissioners questioned the discrepancies in ridership on the Mountain Transit Authority MTA.) The MTA’s annual report on ridership indicated that in Pocahontas County, there were a total of eleven hundred and fifty-four (1,154) fares in the county, with only twelve of those by senior citizens, while the number of seniors riding in the other counties served by the MTA were many times higher. Tim Thomas, of the MTA, during a call-in via Zoom Meeting explained that when the MTA started service in Pocahontas County, they agreed to not compete with the Pocahontas Senior Citizens organization who was already providing rides for a large number of seniors here, while there is no such agreement in the other counties. Thomas added that ridership in Pocahontas County is increasing at the third fastest rate in the MTA, and this is despite the pandemic, which leaves him optimistic about the future of the MTA in the county.
The commissioners also approved the 2021 Hotel Occupancy Tax allotment percentages without any changes from the 2020 percentages, except they did not repeat the one time five-thousand-dollars ($5,000) allotment approved in 2020 for the Historic Landmarks Commission to replace a furnace in the Opera House.
The commissioners also:
- Received an annual update from the Artisans’ Coop.
- Approved the Sheriff to hire John D. Nottingham as a full-time Law Enforcement Deputy at a salary of forty-two thousand, five-hundred dollars ($42,500) per year plus full benefits, effective February, 1, 2021. He pointed out that Nottingham will not need training since he is already employed as a Sergeant in the Fayetteville, WV Police Department.
- Held an informal discussion about the recent COVID-19 outbreak affecting employees at Snowshoe Mountain. They said it appeared to start several weekends ago with employees from Preston County who were staying in employee housing at the resort. The resort’s response has been quick, closing most restaurants and bars, bringing in food trucks instead, and they are considering a two-week closure of the slopes. About a hundred and thirty resort employees are under quarantine.