Insurance, road woes focus in Brooke

WELLSBURG – Concerns about two Brooke County roads and changes in health coverage for county employees were discussed by the Brooke County Commission Tuesday.

The county commissioners said they have met with officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways to discuss repairs and other options to address Rockdale Road.

Several local officials have said a slip in recent months has made the steep, narrow and winding road worse. In recent weeks Brooke County commissioners and school officials have urged state highway officials to expedite planned repairs to the slip using pilings.

School officials have noted the road is used as a shortcut by students and others between Brooke High School and the Hooverson Heights area.

And Commission President Tim Ennis said an accident involving a teen occurred there Monday afternoon.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson confirmed a rear-end collision occurred when the juvenile heading down the road failed to stop behind another vehicle that had stopped to allow vehicles traveling up it to pass while avoiding the slip area.

Sheriff’s deputies investigating the accident didn’t report any injuries resulting from it.

Ennis said the commission has discussed various options with state highway officials, including posting traffic signals at each end, closing the road and making it one way from the top. He said the latter seems the most likely option, though no decision has been made.

In related business, resident Bess Willis asked the commission what it will do to address a problem on her lane, which extends down from Bradys Ridge Road in the Washington Pike area.

Willis approached the commission earlier, saying the pavement of Bradys Ridge Road to accommodate natural gas drillers has raised it above her driveway, causing runoff to wash into her yard below and, at times, her basement.

Willis said ambulance squads have refused to come down the sloped drive, saying they are afraid it will damage their vehicle, when she and another family member with recurring health problems have required medical transports.

Brooke County Ambulance Director Bob Fowler, who was called for comment, said he wasn’t aware of that specific situation. But he said there are areas where access is difficult and local fire departments sometimes have been enlisted to transport patients in their four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Willis said firefighters have transported her family member up the drive as a front seat passenger in their truck.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said he and Ennis visited Willis’ home to investigate.

“Your road is horrible. I had to put it in four-wheel drive to get it out of there,” Andreozzi said.

He said runoff appears to be an issue on both sides of the road and something should be done to divert it.

Ennis said the commission doesn’t own any of the county’s roads and can only encourage the state Division of Highways to take action, but it will bring her issue to its attention.

In other business, Ennis said the county’s department heads have advised the commission they will try to find money in their budgets to cover their staffs’ health insurance deductibles.

“The commission has no other money in its budget but the department heads feel they have money in their budgets to fully cover the deductibles,” he said.

The commissioners also rescinded an earlier motion to require all newly hired county employees to pay 20 percent of their health coverage. Adopted in 2012, the measure was seen as a way to phase in employee contributions without penalizing long-time employees.

The move came as Brooke County Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Palmer submitted his resignation. Palmer announced his plan to retire after 23 years in law enforcement, but he also said he plans to accept a position with higher pay and better benefits.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said another officer will be assigned to fill Palmer’s role as prevention resource officer at Brooke High School, and he will advertise for a new officer for his department.

Palmer is one of several deputies who have left the sheriff’s department in recent years to pursue employment elsewhere, including the private sector.

Ennis said he wasn’t aware of Palmer’s situation, but the moves are seen as a way to retain current employees and attract new ones.

He said the county’s budgetary constraints, spurred by declining revenue, have resulted in county employees being “grossly underpaid, particularly sheriff’s deputies, whose pay is pathetic considering they put their lives at risk for us every day.”

Ennis said rising health coverage costs may force the commission to revisit the policy for new hires, but he and the other commissioners hope to consider raises for the employees next year.

In other business:

Jackson told the commissioners Cheryl Dick has resigned as the county’s mapping and addressing coordinator.

Dick had worked initially as a volunteer and later as a part-time assistant to her husband Terry, now deceased, in coordinating with Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson the designation of citystyle street addresses to residents in unincorporated areas of the county.

Jackson said with the work close to done, he plans to employ two part-time workers on the project in Dick’s absence.

The commission accepted a bid of $39,750 from Kuester Implement of Bloomingdale, Ohio for a tractor for the Brooke County Pioneer Trail at the recommendation of the Brooke County Pioneer Trail Association.

Ruby Greathouse, a leader of the group, said while the bid was about $135,000 more than the other bid submitted, it included a tractor with greater horsepower.