Brooke studies change in courthouse hours

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission is considering changing hours for the county courthouse and is seeking input from the public about the proposal.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi suggested closing the courthouse on Saturday, which currently is open from 9 a.m. to noon then, and extending hours after the courthouse’s regular 5 p.m. closing time on Thursdays.

Many county employees said they would like the commission to make that change. But Andreozzi said he’s heard from residents who said it would be more convenient for them to do county business, such as paying their taxes, after 5 p.m. on a weekday.

He said when he’s brought up closing the courthouse on Saturday to some, it’s met with resistance until he suggested extending hours on Thursday.

“That’s been received pretty well,’ Andreozzi said.

He ‘s asked the public to respond to his proposal by calling (304) 737-4024 or (304) 224-6619.

County Commissioner Norma Tarr asked if the employees would receive overtime for working additional hours on Thursdays.

Andreozzi said they wouldn’t because their hours would be staggered, much the way they are now to accommodate Saturday hours.

“I don’t know what kind of savings it would be. It’s probably a wash,” he said.

Not all county employees work on Saturdays. A small number are scheduled to man various departments in case they receive customers and take an afternoon off earlier in the week to make up for the hours.

But clerks at many of the departments say there are very few Saturday visitors.

Toni White, a clerk in the county assessor’s office, said the office receives very few people and if there are any issues that involve another government agency, that agency usually is closed.

Maureen Williams, chief tax deputy in the county’s tax office, agreed, saying the office can handle renewal of vehicle registrations for the state Division of Motor Vehicles but can’t contact the DMV if there are any questions or issues because it’s not open on Saturdays.

“We also have a website and all of our services are available 24 hours a day (through it). Residents can pay their taxes in their pajamas at home if they want,” she said.

Shirley Jack, a clerk in the circuit court clerk’s office, said she is among a minority of county employees who don’t want the hours to change. She said she likes being able to schedule afternoon appointments on those weeks when she knows she will be working on Saturday.

White countered that point by noting county employees would have that option if they worked staggered shifts on Thursdays.

Jack said more importantly, being open on Saturday makes the courthouse more accessible to the public.

White said the Brooke County Courthouse is among only three county courthouses in the state that are open on Saturdays. The others are in Wetzel and Roane counties.

She noted the Hardy County Commission recently decided, by a 2-1 vote, to close the county’s courthouse on Saturday, citing few walk-in customers then.

In other business, a public hearing was held by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. on the First-time Homebuyers program, through which federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are used to provide loans to first-time homebuyers purchasing homes in Brooke or Hancock counties.

Pending available funds, the program has provided loans up to $10,000 to individuals who meet specific income guidelines and undergo housing counseling intended to improve their chances of keeping the home. If they live in the home for at least five years, the loan is forgiven.

Paula Calvert, assistant programs manager for C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., said several residents of Brooke and Hancock counties received loans last year and two Brooke County residents have received loans this year.

She added there still are funds available and information about the program can be obtained by calling her at (304) 797-7733.

Asked what will happen if there are no applicants, Calvert said she believes the money will roll over for next year.

Commission President Tim Ennis said as a state Delegate he learned West Virginia leads the nation in home ownership.

Norm Schwertfeger, an agent with the Brooke County West Virginia Extension Service, noted federal funds issued for the program also may be used for other needs if officials seek to change their scope.

Other uses include helping low-income residents to make repairs to their homes or remove dilapidated structures to create space for low-income housing.

The commission also agreed to support efforts by the Brooke County Public Service District to seek state funds to update a feasibility study for the extension of water and sewer lines to several unserved areas of the county.

District board member Terry Bonaventura said engineering is nearly complete for the second phase of the Eldersville Road sewer project and the board wants to prepare for additional projects as funds become available.

Board member Bill Liposchak said Washington Pike, McKinleyville, Bethany Pike, Cross Creek and 49 Hill in Beech Bottom are all areas that may be served if funds are available, with the Washington Pike area the most likely candidate first.

Barbara Zimnox, community development specialist for the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said the study needs to be updated because Wellsburg’s facilities have increased in capacity since it was completed.

Completed by Ghosh Engineering, the study covered water and sewer needs in Brooke and Hancock counties and cost about $100,000.

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