Commission discusses employment

WELLSBURG – The Brooke County Commission learned Tuesday of efforts by the Northern Panhandle Workforce Investment Board to put unemployed residents to work.

NPWIB Executive Director Rosemary Guida said the regional employment and training agency has been working to meet an increased need for assistance, with 574 workers laid off, many of them Wetzel and Tyler county residents employed by Ormet.

Guida said federal funding cuts last year resulted in more than 400 of them being put on a waiting list for employment services, the second largest in the state behind the Beckley area.

But she said WorkForce West Virginia, the state network of employment services, has awarded about $300,000 to the agency and has secured about $1 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Labor to be divided statewide to regional employment agencies according to need.

Guida said the federal Workforce Investment Act will be restructured next year as the Workforce Opportunities Act, bringing some positive change, such as ensuring state agencies will be ensured at least 90 percent of their previous funding if further federal cuts are implemented.

She said a $50,000 cut anticipated by the agency is minor compared to the $389,000 that was cut from its budget two years ago.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi asked if natural gas companies have been hiring more local residents.

The agency has worked with West Virginia Northern Community College to establish courses geared to the natural gas industry with the help of a $3.8 million federal ShaleNET grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

But Guida said one barrier has been natural gas companies that prefer to hire experienced workers over locally trained ones without experience in the natural gas industry.

She said in addition to educating applicants for employment services about jobs in the natural gas industry, the agency is informing men and women of wages and benefits offered by jobs previously associated with a specific gender, such as paralegals and truck drivers.

Guida also reported on the summer youth program, in which 60 teens worked 32 hours a week for six weeks at 18 government or nonprofit agencies throughout the Northern Panhandle.

The sites included 17 in Brooke County, with youth mowing the lawn, painting and performing some office duties for Brooke Hills Park, the villages of Beech Bottom and Windsor Heights and others.

Guida said the program could employ up to 100 youth but lacks work sites to place them.

In other business,

The commissioners moved to provide $5,000 to the Weirton Transit Authority, in two installments of $2,500, as it has done in the past. Officials with the public transportation service have reported that many of its riders and destinations are in Brooke County.

They chose not to honor requests for funding from the Northern Panhandle Conservation, Resource and Development Council, a regional agency that has awarded state funds for various recreational projects; and the Marland Heights Community Association, which is attempting to secure funds for restoration of the Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool.

Andreozzi said the decision is based on the commission’s current budget crunch. Citing declining tax revenue, in March the commission cut its budget from $7.1 million to $6.6 million for the current fiscal year.

Eleanor Ryniawec of West Liberty asked the commission to pursue the establishment of a local drug addiction rehabilitation facility not involving methadone or other drugs as part of its treatment.

Ryniawec said the community has lost too many young adults to drug addiction, and it’s difficult for family members to find easily accessible, affordable treatment.

Local officials have lamented that drug counseling is available as part of an alternative sentence for criminal offenders with drug problems, but it’s only available after individuals’ habits have led them to commit crimes.

The Rev. Joe Cuomo, pastor of the Christian Assembly of Follansbee, told the commission he and others are working to bring representatives of Teen Challenge to the church.

Cuomo said the international Christian organization offers a 14-month residential program aimed at helping people to overcome negative life-controlling influences, such as drugs and alcohol.

He said Teen Challenge has facilities in Cleveland, Columbus and Youngstown, and he can share contact information to anyone interested.

Approved the hiring of Mary Wigal of Wellsburg as a clerk for the circuit court. Wigal will fill a vacancy left with the upcoming departure of Shirley Jack, who is retiring in September.