Sparks Fly at Special Commission Meeting

During the Friday June 7th Pocahontas County Special Commission meeting, Commission President Walt Helmick led a discussion about the proposed construction of a courthouse annex. He said he has given up on the idea of demolishing the old jail building behind the courthouse and building the new judicial courthouse annex on that site. That project had been stymied because the old jail building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. As Helmick put it:

“After a while,” said Helmick, “You realize that you can’t live long enough to get that place off the National Registry of Historic Places.”

Helmick went on to explain that that years ago the county Commission mistakenly and wrongly included the jail on the registry, so now it is time to move on with a new site for the annex, and let the old jail remain and fall down on its own. He said he and Alan Wright from the Assessor’s office have found a piece of ground to the left of the courthouse and jail just across Judge Street from the courthouse. The lot contains one run-down old house which will need to be demolished according to Helmick. The property consists of five town lots and he said it will make an ideal spot to build the badly needed new annex.

Helmick led everyone outside to look at the lot, which is located behind -and does not include the big white house on the corner of 10th Avenue and Judge Street.  There does appear to be sufficient room to build a 4,500 to 5,000 square foot annex on it and it appears to be on somewhat higher ground than the courthouse.

One problem, Helmick explained, is that there is an undeveloped town right-of-way running right through the middle of the lot. Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton said he would speak to the Town Council and propose that they consider abandoning that short and unused right-of-way. Helmick also said he will need to examine the new FEMA Flood Map to ensure the lot is above any flood zone, but believes it is. He said those questions would need to be answered before he proposes the commission vote on purchasing of the lot. The commissioners voted to ask the Marlinton Town Council to abandon their right-of-way through the proposed lots.

Helmick said the owner of the lot is asking $87,000 for the lot, and demolishing the old house there might cost another $10,000, so the total cost appears to be less than $100,000 to purchase and prepare the site. Obviously, this does not include the cost of construction and equipping the annex building.

When Helmick asked for public comment, Jay Miller, the Democratic nominee for commissioner, spoke out. Miller talked about the attempt by then commissioner Rita Griffith 14 years ago to build a courthouse annex. He said that Martin Saffer and David Flemming, the other commissioners, as well as Dolan Irvine, then the County Assessor didn’t support the Courthouse Annex project, and after much debate and controversy, the annex was rejected in favor of making needed repairs and improvements to the courthouse, which included installing the elevator which is still in use.

Miller also pointed out that there are other ways to maximize the use of space and store records in the courthouse short of building an annex, especially since the population of the county is decreasing. The fireworks began when Miller said “Now, we have situation where Walt Helmick, with about six months to go in his term, wants to buy a piece of property near the Courthouse, that can be used to start work on his dream of a Courthouse Annex.” That set Helmick off. and he responded with anger, cutting Miller off and accused him of political motives. Helmick told Miller to ask the other two commissioners how they felt then said:

“Whether they buy it or not, I don’t care” Helmick said angerly. “But I do oppose those kinds of statements made about me after having served 50 years in this county without ever looking at one dime of personal gain for Walt Helmick.”

When Miller tried to respond by talking about the rush Helmick appears to be in to get the annex built, Helmick cut him off, and speaking over him, he told Miller:

“Ask the other two what I asked you to ask because I am going to adjourn this meeting pretty dang quick.”

Miller did ask the other commissioners. While Commissioner John Rebinski’s answer seemed to justify the project, Commissioner Jamie Walker appeared to have some reservations, but needed more information.

The meeting was quickly adjourned after that.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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