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PSD to ask for $25,000 grant

Thursday October 4, 2007
The Pocahontas Times

By Drew Tanner, Staff Writer

A grant proposal that appeared to divide members of the Pocahontas County Public Service District in August was approved after just a brief discussion last Tuesday.

At their regular monthly meeting, board members voted unanimously to request a $25,000 Local Economic Development Assistance Grant from the office of Governor Joe Manchin.

At the PSD's July meeting, County Commissioner Reta Griffith presented the board with the grant application, which had been forwarded to her by state Senator Walt Helmick.

The grant application was to be used to fund a project coordinator for six months, PSD secretary Scott Millican said at the time. The PSD had hired Slaty Fork resident Kermit Friel for the position in March, contingent on funding becoming available.

Friel previously worked as a contractor for the PSD to secure easements for the project.

At the July meeting, the PSD held off on acting on the grant application when it was pointed out the instructions said the grant could not be used to pay salaries, and the application itself was for the state's 2006 fiscal year.

In August, Millican told his fellow board members he had assurances from the governor's office that the grant would be approved and added that the grant's approval was at the governor's discretion.

Millican also said the PSD could potentially receive up to $100,000 from another source if the application was submitted and approved. Millican said he was not at liberty to disclose the source of the funds at that time.

Both PSD president William Rexrode and treasurer Mark Smith were skeptical of the arrangements Millican had made and said they wanted to see such assurances in writing.

Smith said he thought the money should be used to evaluate alternate sites, rather than paying a salary.

On Tuesday, Smith and Rexrode appeared to acquiesce.

Rexrode did ask again, however, if the PSD wasn't precluded from using the grant to pay for a salary.

"There don't seem to be any actual rules about how this grant money from the Governor's office is to be administered," said PSD attorney Tom Michael.

Michael said he called the administrator of the program, who told him the grant could not be used for salaries.

"But probably, the governor can do whatever he wants," Michael said.

Smith, who had opposed Millican on the application previously, said he would no longer put up a fight.

"I'm taking my dog out of that race," Smith said. "You all can do whatever you want to do."

Millican said he was still in favor of requesting the funds.

"The issue of location is still a hindrance to the project as a whole," Millican said. "The process of going forward with the testing of the site and/or sites would benefit from someone being hired."

Millican said the board wouldn't know if the application would be approved or rejected unless it takes a chance and submits it.

Smith noted that the county commission must ultimately approve of the PSD's request and submit the application.

"It's my understanding that the county commission supports our decisions," Millican said. "That being the case, I would rather not presume what their decision would be. If we feel we can accomplish something by doing this, let's put it before the commission and let them decide... whether or not they're going to help us."

"Let's not presume it won't be approved, Millican continued. "Let's send it in and let it go through the process. If we can benefit from it, I'm all for it."

Michael said he would prepare the application and include an explanation of the PSD's situation and a request that the guidelines spelled out on the application be waived.

Speaking by phone after the meeting, Millican said the additional $100,000 may still be available, but he had concerns that time for those funds may be running out. Millican said he is still unable to reveal the source of that money.