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Commissioners OK revised 911 levy

WELLSBURG — The Brooke County Commission, Wednesday, released details of a proposed levy for the county’s emergency 911 center, noting errors discovered in it have been corrected.

Commission President Tim Ennis said after the state auditor’s office approved the four-year levy, they noticed minor errors they had made in their calculations, and the commission corrected them and resubmitted it.

As submitted, the levy is set to generate $570,296 per year for four years, less than the $625,208 per year initially announced.

Rates in the revised levy also are slightly less than had been announced.

They are: 1.60 cents per $100 of assessed Class I property, 3.20 cents per $100 of assessed Class II property and 6.40 cents per $100 of assessed Class III and IV property.

The levy order states funds from it may be used “to operate, maintain and improve and repair equipment; train and educate employees; purchase supplies needed for the general maintenance and repair of the 911 Communication Center facilities; provide for salaries, wages and benefits of the employees; and for capital improvements to the 911 Communication Center” as well as to cover the costs of presenting the levy for public vote.

It will appear on ballots in the May 12 primary election.

County commissioners said the levy was prompted by declining revenue from 911 fees collected from cellular and land line phone users, particularly for the latter as many have turned to cell phones only.

In 2018, the commission raised the monthly landline fee from $2.05 to $6.05 to offset a deficit at which the center was operating.

The commissioners said the center is at risk of running into the red again next year.

Increased from $3 last year, the $3.34 monthly fee for cell phone users is divided among the West Virginia State Police, for 911 upgrades; the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to establish and maintain an interoperable radio network involving local agencies; and each of the 55 counties based on their population.

Officials in some states, including Ohio, have lobbied for a universal surcharge for all devices, including Internet-based phone service used by some businesses, which pay no 911 fees.

The commissioners said they set the levy’s term at four years because county levies for the ambulance service, fire departments and other services will expire after that time. They said they may want to consider incorporating the 911 center into one of them at that time.

In other business, the commission heard from Gregory Gerdeman and Erin Carey, who said they are pursuing the establishment of a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Weirton and will need the cooperation of county officials and the county board of health as it develops.

The commissioners referred them to the board of health.

Mike Bolen, administrator of the county’s health department, said there is language in the state’s medical marijuana law, passed in 2017, that suggests local health boards have a voice in the opening of dispensaries in their counties but it’s not yet clear what criteria they should follow.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone involved, no matter what their role in the process is,” he said.

He said county health departments haven’t been charged with inspecting the businesses, and he assumes that task will fall to a state agency.

The Medical Cannabis Law allows the state Bureau for Public Health to issue permits to no more than 100 dispensaries in the state and no more than 10 cultivators of the plant and 10 processors of it.

Following the meeting, County Commissioner A.J. Thomas said county commissions have the power to put the operation of dispensaries in their counties, including cities within them, up for a public vote.

But he and Commissioners Ennis and Stacey Wise said they have no plans to do that.

Ennis noted the drug has been approved for medical, not recreational, use, with medical personnel to be involved in patients’ acquisition of it.

The state has approved the use of medical marijuana for treatment of 15 conditions, including chronic and intractible pain, and in the form of pills, oils, gels, creams, ointments, vaporization and nebulization.

Smoking the drug isn’t permitted.

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

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