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House blasts county budget

December 7, 2012
By Katie Kuba - Senior Staff Writer (kkuba@theintermountain.com) , The Inter-Mountain

When he set out to run for Randolph County Commission, Kerens resident Mike House promised his supporters that even if he didn't win the election, he would seek answers to their questions about how the county was being run and how their tax dollars were being spent.

So, on Thursday afternoon at the County Commission's regular meeting, House - having lost the Nov. 6 county election to incumbent Commission President Mike Taylor - made good on his promise.

He read a prepared memo laying out questions and issues he said constituents had raised while he was on the campaign trail.

A few of those questions pertained to how county commission meetings were conducted. For instance, House, a pastor, wanted to know why county commission meetings "were not opened in prayer by one of the local pastors." House also asked why the time and location of county commission meetings - slated for the first and third Thursdays of every month at 1:30 p.m. at the James Cain Courthouse Annex - were "not made more available to more citizens of the county."

"Is it not possible to have varying times and locations?" he asked.

The majority of inquiries, however, centered upon financial matters. Noting that according to its October 2012 financial statement, the county has $4.6 million in uncommitted funds in its general account and $1.5 million in its financial stabilization (or rainy day) account, House took issue with several ways in which funds were being spent.

House asked why the volunteer fire departments were only receiving $14,000 annually when their operating budgets are approximately $75,000.

"Why has the Humane Society been budgeted $80,000 and yet charges for neutering/spaying animals they take in?" House asked. "They also refuse to take animals, at times, especially cats and are selling dogs to rescue companies ... In comparison to the VFDs, the Humane Society should be doing very well."

House also lamented the alleged failure of the County Commission to secure generators for all the volunteer fire departments in the county - especially in the aftermath of the June 29 derecho.

Contending that the county receives "several thousand dollars" from the 6 percent hotel/motel tax collected on each hotel/motel room rental in the area, House questioned why a portion of those funds were used "for projects other than tourism, such as the YMCA and Camp Pioneer."

"Why are the Railroad and tourist centers underfunded when adequate taxes are being collected?" House inquired. "Are the funds used for any advertising in high draw areas such as Pittsburgh, Harrisonburg, etc.?"

House said he hoped the commission would take the time to address each of the 12 items listed on his memo verbally at a future meeting or in writing.

"I would like to ask the commissioners to give these issues their serious attention," House concluded. "As elected officials, it is of utmost importance that you address the concerns of your constituents."

Several county officials took issue with some of House's claims.

Commissioner Joyce Johns informed House that the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau did, in fact, use hotel/motel tax to pay for advertising in highly populated areas.

Jim Wise, acting director of the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management, refuted House's contention that the commission had failed to procure generators for all county VFDs.

"Those have been purchased and paid for, but we're at the mercy of the supplier and those who install them," Wise said, "but they are being put in as we speak. Between July and December, we researched them and purchased them and ordered them, and I actually think that's a pretty quick turnaround."

Wise also presented a review of the county's response to Superstorm Sandy. He said that although Sandy lasted longer than the June 29 derecho, the county had advance warning of the most recent storm and was able to amass assets - such as National Guard wellness teams and chainsaw crews - prior to it striking.

Wise said the OEM had encountered some shortfalls, the primary one being a lack of effective methods to communicate with various agencies and organizations.

Wise said the OEM has since developed a Facebook page (search for 'Randolph County Office of Emergency Management' on www.facebook.com) and will, in the future, station more amateur, or ham, radio operators at various locales throughout the county.

County Commissioner Chris See thanked Wise, who is also the E-911 director, for the "tremendous job" he'd done.

Taylor was not present at Thursday's meeting.

The Randolph County Courthouse will be closed on Monday, Dec. 24 and Tuesday, Dec. 25 for the Christmas holiday; it will also be closed Monday, Dec. 31 and Tuesday, Jan. 1 for the New Year's Day holiday.

 
 

 

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