Brooke agencies rally for levy support

WELLSBURG — Representatives of several of the county agencies supported by the Brooke County ambulance levy were on hand recently to tell visitors to the Brooke County Public Library how they use funds generated from that levy.

Normally determined through a special election, renewal of the five-year levy will be among local issues on ballots in the Nov. 6 general election. If approved, it will generate $1,060,490 per year for five years for the following agencies: The Brooke County Ambulance Service, $296,433; Brooke County Health Department, $190,386; Brooke County Library and its Follansbee branch, $179,781; Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service, $73,733; Brooke County Committee on Aging, which oversees the Brooke County Senior Center and other senior programs, $52,523; Healthways, which operates Brooke County Opportunity Center, and the costs for the county’s mental hygiene proceedings, $41,919; the Mary H. Weir Library, $31,314; and the Brooke County Museum, $18,853.

In recent years the Brooke County Commission added maintenance, repair and improvements to the county courthouse as a recipient in the amount of $70,000.

To pass, the levy must be supported by 60 percent of voters.

Bob Fowler, director of the county’s ambulance service and office of emergency management, said, “It would be catastrophic to the ambulance service if the levy didn’t pass.”

Fowler said the levy accounts for about $30,000 of the ambulance service’s $1.2 million budget, and without it, he would be forced to cut the number of staff scheduled for each shift.

Andy Nickerson, assistant director of the ambulance service, said levy funds also are used to provide staff with up-to-date training and equipment, including the heart monitor he said is used for every ambulance patient to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs.

Nickerson said the monitors must be replaced after eight to 10 years due to wear and tear, but also as newer, more efficient models are produced. He said each costs about $35,000, and the ambulance service is preparing to replace several.

“But we’re trying to hold off on major purchases until we see how the levy does,” he said.

Norm Schwertfeger, an agent with the West Virginia University Extension Service, said its Brooke County office is funded primarily by the levy.

“It runs our county office, pays for our utilities, our phone, our secretary,” he said.

Schwertfeger said in addition to providing information to local gardeners, the Brooke County extension staff members visit schools to speak to youth about drug abuse and other health issues and oversee the local 4-H program.

He said the program has seen increased participation in recent years, with this year’s summer camp full and five chapters for those ages 5-8 and 9-18 meeting at Brooke Middle School, Brooke Hills Park and Follansbee United Presbyterian Church.

As a representative of the extension service, Schwertfeger also has been working with local groups to spur economic development and tourism.

“That levy is huge for the health department,” said Mike Bolen, its administrator.

Bolen noted he and his staff work in the field, helping to ensure safe food at local restaurants and stores and properly installed septic systems; and at their office at the county courthouse, providing immunizations and other clinical services.

He said in response to a rise in reported cases of Lyme disease — from seven two years ago to 40 this year — staffers have increased talks to students about deterring ticks and detecting early signs of the disease.

Bolen said the appearance at the library is part of “a collaborative effort to promote the excess levy, what it supports and how it benefits everybody.”

He encourages any group seeking speakers on the levy and its uses to contact any of the agencies it supports.

A Facebook page also has been established at Brooke County Excess Levy.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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