Ask the Randolph County Commission, and you shall receive.
At the commission's meeting Wednesday, Kerens resident Mike House received answers to more than a dozen queries he posed at the commission's Dec. 6 meeting about how the county was being run and where residents' tax dollars were being spent.
House had explained that he was raising issues and concerns on behalf of the people who supported him in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor in the Nov. 6 General Election.
Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor, who was absent at the Dec. 6 meeting, asked House on Wednesday to come to the front row of the commission meeting room in the James F. Cain Courthouse Annex, as he addressed each area of concern.
Taylor first took issue with House's suggestion that the commission was planning on raising taxes. In his letter to the commission, House had written, "The commission needs to be honest with the citizens of Randolph County before they suggest raising our taxes or borrowing money for ongoing projects."
"This commission has not ever entertained nor discussed raising taxes," Taylor said Wednesday. "The tax rate has stayed the same or gone down in the last four years. We have been honest, and to infer otherwise, I disagree with that."
Taylor said the county's financial records are accessible to the public in the Randolph County Clerk's Office, and that budgeting meetings for the2013-2014 fiscal year - which will begin in March - are also open to the public.
House said he hadn't meant to imply that the commission was lying to the people.
Taylor then turned to House's question about why the commission doesn't open its meetings with prayer, instead of having a moment of silent meditation, as is currently the practice.
"It's the same reason that we don't have a Nativity scene displayed in the courthouse," Taylor said. "We have to maintain a separation between church and state, and also as a governmental entity, I think we have a responsibility to not endorse one religion over another."
"But there's no law against it?" House asked.
"I'm not going to have this debate," Taylor countered.
Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy stepped in to address House's worries about why the sheriff's department doesn't have around-the-clock coverage. Roy said the county currently employs nine sheriff's deputies - and that bailiff duty and the responsibility of transporting defendants, plus officers' sick leave and vacation, "makes it very difficult to run a 24-hour, 7-days-week patrol."
"But we're working toward that," Roy said. "We're increasing steadily, but we're trying to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. If we were to double the number of deputies, we would double the budget."
Turning to House's assertion that "the Railroad and tourist centers" were underfunded, Taylor said that simply wasn't true, and that the county gives the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau the maximum amount of hotel/motel tax collected - 50 percent - permissible under state code. House had also questioned why hotel/motel tax dollars were being utilized to sustain organizations like the Elkins-Randolph County YMCA and Camp Pioneer.
Taylor said a certain subsection of state code states that hotel/motel tax monies may be used to support recreational facilities.
"Those entities fall within the guidelines," Taylor said. "Maybe members of the CVB don't agree, but to make Randolph County a better place to live, we need to spread that money in all those allowable areas."
At the Dec. 6 meeting, House had asked why the 10 county volunteer fire departments receive only $14,000, despite the fact that their operating budgets amount to $75,000 annually. House's letter suggests that the VFDs' annual budgets are illogically meager compared to the Randolph County Humane Society's $80,000 operating budget.
"In comparison to the VFDs, the Humane Society should be doing very well," House had written.
Taylor pointed out that each volunteer fire department is allotted $14,500 - not $14,000.
"With 10 fire departments, that's $145,000 total we give annually," Taylor said. "If you want to talk about raising taxes, we could give them more. We try to do the best job we can with the funding we have available." Taylor said the Humane Society provides a "tremendous service" to Randolph County, and that the county gives them money in return for those services.
"So, who's selling the dogs (to rescue companies)?" House asked.
(In his letter, House had alleged that the Humane Society sells dogs to rescue companies as a private source of funding - and that the money made from such sales should be considered when the commission makes budgeting decisions relative to the Humane Society.)
"The Randolph County Commission and the dog warden (animal control officer) are not in the business of selling dogs," Taylor stated.
"Well, somebody is," House responded.
"You heard what I said," Taylor retorted.
Randolph County Clerk Brenda Wiseman answered House's questions about why "hundreds" of names of people who have died or moved remain on the list of registered voters. Wiseman explained that unless the county receives a death certificate from Charleston or a county in another state, it cannot strike a voter's name. She also said there is a process in place by which the counties periodically employ the States Postal Service to determine whether registered voters still live in the county.
House wanted to know why county commission meetings are "not made more available to more citizens of the county" and suggested the commission host its meetings at varying times and places.
Taylor said state code mandates that the commission convene in the Randolph County Courthouse or the courthouse annex, adding that more people tend to attend afternoon meetings than evening meetings.
"We find we get a better crowd in the afternoon than in the evening," Taylor said.
House thanked the commission for responding to the issues he raised.
Before adjourning, the commission also:
- Approved the appointment of Stewart Allen to the Randolph County Ambulance Authority for a term beginning Jan. 1, 2013 and ending June 30, 2016.
- Approved the hiring of Michael Parlock as a court security office in the Randolph County Sheriff's Department. Parlock's employment will be effective Dec. 26, and he will work 40 hours a week for an annual salary of $21,000.
- Approved an advertisement for bids for continued remodeling of the courthouse basement.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.