MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — On Thursday, the Morgantown Area Partnership hosted a forum to discuss problems in Monongalia County ahead of the West Virginia legislative session next week.
The area partnership helps to create opportunities to help economic growth and prosperity for the community and six state senators and delegates spoke to local officials about what their priorities will be once they get to Charleston.
One issue brought up by Delegate Joe Statler was the need for more support for the EMS and Fire Departments in north central West Virginia.
Monongalia County passed an EMS levy in the General Election but the one in Tucker County failed. Delegate Statler said the levies that have been passed provide helpful funding but they’re not taking care of all the needs of the departments.
“Fire companies … [and] EMS services relied a lot on volunteers,” Delegate Statler said. “The volunteers are no longer coming as much as they used to, so they’re having to pick up the loads and pay more people, especially on the EMS side, and when they can’t do that, or they can’t pay enough money, then we begin losing these squads that help the citizens of the state of West Virginia and that’s very costly.”
Delegate Statler wants to find funds for EMS and Fire Departments to be able to hire more personnel, train more volunteers and get more equipment.
Last year, the county secured nearly $160,000 to put on training for EMS volunteers, but Del. Statler said he heard they had trouble getting people to take to classes. However, other efforts strengthened the field such as raising nearly $10 million to help more than 700 people statewide graduate with paramedic training.
“We quickly found out that if we make money available people are interested in training for the jobs and taking it on, so we got to continue that,” Del. Statler said.
Another topic at the forum was road conditions across all north central West Virginia.
Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom suggested legislatures that represent the northern part of the state meet more frequently to “work together to support Monongalia County.”
“There are no Democratic roads there are no Republican roads,” Commissioner Bloom said. “Where is our leadership coming to Charleston saying, ‘you have $1.5 billion let’s bring some of that money back to the infrastructure to help Monongalia County’?”
Bloom called for the legislature to bring back the north central caucus to work together more efficiently.
“Y’all aren’t working together. You really aren’t,” Bloom said to the elected officials. “I’m very concerned that we’re now at a point where we’re now making decisions because the state tells the Republican Party, the Democratic Party ‘do this, do that’ and you’re losing Monongalia County.”
Senator Mike Oliverio of the 13th District, which covers Monongalia County, will serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His plans include finding a better way to work with the Division of Highway workers.
“It’s a safety issue,” Sen. Oliverio said about the roads in Mon County. “I’ve gone through two teenage drivers learning to drive. All of us in this community, we have folks that we care about deeply, we want to make sure we have safe roads for them to drive on.”
Oliverio said an important first step to improving roads and conditions in the winter is getting more personnel to the DOH.
“There were 55 employees when I left office on the Mon County DOH office. Today there are 24,” Senator Oliverio said, who worked in the Department of Highways 12 years ago. “It’s hard to expect 24 people to do what 55 were doing.”
Sen. Oliverio also discussed smaller, more local issues such as the temporary closure of the Morgantown Ice Arena in March and sees the ice rink as an opportunity to grow the sport and provide economic development to the area, saying it is important for the Morgantown community to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
“I think what a quality hockey facility presents to this community is the opportunity to recruit more students, recruit faculty members from around the county. If we know that folks are interested in hockey in certain regions of the country, this could be a draw to bring them into Morgantown.”
Other elected officials stuck to discussing their priorities in the legislative session such as Delegate Evan Hansen and his focus on climate change as he serves on the Energy and Manufacturing Committee. One bill he is looking to push seeks to allow solar developers to build a project in the state and sell shares to businesses or residents that want to go green but may not have the right roof for solar panels, according to Hanson.
The second bill Del. Hansen is pushing is the PFAS Protection Act.
“The issue with PFAS is that they’re very toxic,” Hansen said.
A study of the river and streams, also known as raw water systems, across West Virginia found PFAS at “concerning levels in about half of those raw water systems” according to Hansen.
“The bill I’m proposing is going to direct the state to do further studying to identify the sources of pollution so that we can hold the polluters accountable rather than putting the burden on water facilities,” Del. Hansen said.
All the issues will be discussed at the legislative session which begins on Jan. 11 in Charleston.