For City Staff
By JOHN G. WOLFE
Meeting in special session last Tuesday evening, the Weston City Council approved a near $1.6 million budget for fiscal year 2015-2016 that includes a 3% pay increase for all full-time city employees. Also included in the new budget will be an increase in pay for members of the Council, from $150 per month to $200 per month beginning on July 1.
The additions to the budget will cost approximately $25,000.
The approved pay hike was not as high as had been requested by Police Chief R.Z. Posey, who had wanted an increase of $1 per hour for city officers. For the police, the raise will amount to about forty-two cents per hour. Posey had told Council members during the meeting that he wanted to be able to "keep Weston competitive with other agencies," in an effort not to lose officers.
Fire Chief Kenny James also told members of the Council that firefighter salaries in area city departments were also higher, although James had not previously requested a pay increase for firefighters.
Salaries make up the largest hunk of the city's budget, as is the case in most city governments. Approximately $713,640 of the budget will go for salaries. This amount does not include the costs of fringe benefits such as insurance.
Law enforcement is the top spending priority under the approved budget, with approximately $470,000 dedicated to the police department. The street department follows with an estimated budget of $370,000 and the fire department with a budget of approximately $253,000.
There was some discussion about how much money to leave in the fund for the work of the city attorney but the amount was left at $45,000, with $20,000 for salary and $25,000 for annexation efforts.
Council members seemed uncertain about just how much of the legal and other work for annexation had been completed. Although no formal vote was taken at any meeting, Tim Stranko was evidently relieved of his duties as City Attorney and a new attorney, Elizabeth Snead was formally employed at the March regular meeting as the new City Attorney.
The Council also approved the appointment of Linda Riffle and Holly Watson to the Weston Fairs and Festivals Committee.
The next regular meeting of the Weston City Council will be on Monday, April 6, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Lewis County Senior Center.
Sharpe Hospital Escapee, Accused Slayer, Is Sought
Law enforcement officers have been searching for an escapee from William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital who is charged with murder in Brooke County. The escapee has garnered attention by media across the state and nation.
Rocco Jesse Zuccaro, 30, is said to have escaped from the Weston psychiatric facility at approximately 4:20 p.m. on Monday. Zuccaro was a forensic patient at the hospital, ordered there by a Brooke County Circuit Judge in February for a period of 90 days. Sources indicate that Zuccaro was able to scale a high wall in a courtyard at the hospital where patients are able to go for short times to get a breath of fresh air.
He is described as a white male, standing 6 feet tall, weighing 170 lbs., wearing black pants with a rip on the left pant leg, a dark blue/black pullover shirt, glasses, dark hair, and a mustache. His direction of travel upon escape is unknown. The public is advised not to approach Zuccaro. Any encounters or sightings should be reported by calling 911 or the State Police at 304-269-0500.
Zuccaro, who is from Burgettstown, Pa., stands accused of the shooting death of 30-year-old Jason Lee Pratz in February of 2013 at his home in the community of McKinleyville in Brooke County. Zuccaro was scheduled to go on trial on Feb. 23, but a judge ruled him incompetent to stand trial and sent him to Sharpe in an effort to restore competency.
In his initial court appearance in April of 2013, WTRF television in Wheeling reported that Zuccaro's attorney, Michale Nogey, said Zuccaro suffers from a "serious mental condition" and psychosis and was in treatment for his illness before the alleged crime.
News reports indicate that Zucarro was deemed competent to stand trial in September of 2014, however Zucarro's attorney has said that his clients incarceration has led to a deterioration of his mental condition. The Clarksburg Exponent reported that Zucarro's attorney told the court last year that Zucarro disagrees with findings that he has a mental condition, refuses to take medication and claims to be innocent of the murder charge.
The escapee points out safety concerns often expressed by Sharpe employees, the public and local legislators and raises many questions that need answered by heads of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR). The DHHR completed a new forensic wing in July of last year that sits empty. Employees claim that there is very little separation of violent forensic patients from those deemed non-violent. Patients, including those with a history of violence, are not required to wear any special uniform or outfit that would make them distinguishable if they do escape. Employees say they cannot defend themselves or others against violent attacks for fear of losing their jobs.
Local legislative representative Delegate Peggy Donaldson Smith said, "The DHHR needs to address these safety concerns and I have been begging them to do so for some time. In addition, West Virginia needs to look at some type of alternative setting or separate facility in which to house and treat violent court-ordered patients."
The main question that remains unanswered is how a patient such as this could escape from the facility? Some have suggested that Zucarro may have had help in his escape. "The wall is a tall one to scale," said an employee who wished to remain anonymous, "but once over someone could have been waiting to pick him up in the parking lot. It could have been planned. There is not restriction on people coming to the facility and parking near the hospital. There is no gate to restrict entrance into the hospital grounds. The phone calls and mail of such patients are not monitored. He could have had help," the employee said.
While this is very speculative, many questions need to be answered by those in charge of the facility, including how they plan to stop such escapes in the future.
Delegate Smith said on Tuesday that she had tried to reach the CEO at the hospital without success. She, along with Senators Doug Facemire and Mike Romano planned to hold a press conference dealing with their concerns about safety at the hospital and the community at 10 a.m. We will report on that press conference and any new developments in next week's issue of our paper.
By CASSIDY McCOY
At Monday's meeting the Lewis County Commission was hard at work for the community. On top of finalizing budgets and planning the commission approved funding for the Prevention Resource Officer (PRO) Program, declared April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and declared March 22-28 as Food Check Out Week in Lewis County.
The PRO officers patrol the school systems and provide particular attention and on site assistance to Robert L. Bland Middle School and Lewis County High School. Sgt. Michael Cayton approached the Commission on Monday requesting funding in the amount of $52,620.53 from the county commission. Sgt. Cayton said that it is "hard not to have an officer in the school and I'm sad for schools that don't have an officer on hand."
Commissioner Pat Boyle agreed that the PRO program is a great and needed program and praised Officers Michael Cayton and Deputy Ryan, who is new to the program, on their service. Pat stated that "it's not only about law enforcement, its also about character" and noted that the students have a deep respect for Sgt. Cayton and appreciate his support. Commissioner Agnes Queen agreed that it is a "very worthy program" and the commission voted to grant the funding request for the 2015-2016 school year.
Representatives from HOPE, Inc, Terri Flint and Kim Nicholsen, approached the commission to ask for help in their battle to reduce domestic violence. The Commission made the proclamation that April 2015 be Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In order to stop and prevent sexual assaults, HOPE is out to increase public awareness and offer assistance. For more information about HOPE please contact them at 304-269-8233.
In addition, the commission signed a second proclamation. The Lewis County Farm Bureau attended Monday's meeting an the commission proclaimed March 22-28 as Food Check-Out Week. The group wants to increase recognition on the diverse agricultural industry within Lewis County that helps to provide community citizens to healthy and nutritionally rich foods and help farmers and ranchers in their goals to provide sustainable foods.
The Lewis County Economic Development Authority presented findings from the Region VI Development Meeting that reflected a statewide increase in unemployment last month. Mike Herron said that every state saw an increase last month and that while WV had 2,800 jobs eliminated last month, unemployment only increased by 1,600 people.
Mike went on to discuss the ongoing Northwest Water Project and the upcoming March 30 meeting and discuss a recent North Central WV Business Summit and the Corridor H Authority meeting held in Washington D.C. last week. The group is pushing for completion of Corridor H by 2020, more than a decade ahead of the predicted schedule. The LCEDA also had Alicia Flesher present because the commission approved her oath of office for the LCEDA.
Commissioners and Cindy Whetsell shared insight into local meetings and ongoing projects in which time Cindy informed the commission that Governor Earl Ray Tomblin did veto the concealed carry bill that was in legislature. Cindy said the county was keeping a watchful eye on the decision because of the funding the sheriff's office sees through the issuance of concealed carry permits.
Cindy also mentioned that the Senate Bill 361 concerning prevailing wages is scheduled for signing on March 30 which would then take effect April 13. Projects under $500,000 are not subject to prevailing wage but others will be. This brought up concern by commissioners that current projects may need to be rebid because of contractors using figures from before the bill takes effect.
The Lewis County Commission has also been very busy meeting with department representatives in trying to create a budget and plan for the upcoming fiscal year. At the end of the meeting before going into executive session the commission approved and signed a current draft for next year's budget.
Monday's regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting began with approval of previous meetings minutes, a presented award to Andrew Gould for winning the regional spelling bee and general business before moving onto a funding request for the PRO program that puts officers in the school system.
Sgt. Michael Cayton spoke on behalf of the PRO officers and requested $37,586.09 from the Lewis County Board of Education to keep the program funded and place officers at Robert L. Bland Middle School and Lewis County High School. The officers also make frequent visits to the elementary schools throughout the area to patrol and assist and get to know students. Sgt. Cayton stated that "in the times we live in now, it's needed" and went on to say that his job is not only to issues citations but also to "adjust the ways of thinking and attitudes" of students in order to see change.
The Lewis County PRO program was awarded $52,620.53 from the county commission and has also applied for a federal grant that could yield up to $28,000. The cost for an officer on site at LCHS is $63,338.61 and the cost for an officer at RLBMS is $54,868.01 bringing the total needed for the 2015-2016 school year up to $118,206.62.
Sgt. Cayton added about the PRO officers in the school that "we can't afford to not have it." He reported that within the past year he has seen fighting and tobacco use cut in half. He also reported that while drug use is in the school system, he only deals wit up to 24 drug users on a regular basis at LCHS and continues to try to eradicate as much drug use as he can.
Board of Education Board Member Buck Probst stated that "my personal opinion is that if you go through the whole year and can only help one student, then it's worth it to me." Beth Burkhart added that "officers in place are at the discretion of the sheriff" but applauded Sgt. Cayton at the high school and Deputy Robert Ryan at the middle school for their efforts in protecting and serving Lewis County students.
Sylvia McNeish made a motion to award the $37,586.09 requested as well as any amount of the federal grant that goes unfunded. Debbie Clem seconded the motion which was quickly approved.
On a separate security matter, the BOE approved City Construction Company, Inc.'s bid of $37,790 for security upgrades at the Lewis County BOE building entrance. L.D. Skarzinski presented the bids by City Construction Company and Huffman Corporation, who bid higher for the project at $59,800. It was the second time the bid had been put out for the project. The first time bids were extremely high so the engineers re-evaluated the plans, changed the layout and accepted bids again.
The project would install a secure main entrance. Visitors would have to be buzzed into the first set of doors where they would be secured before being granted access into the main building through a set of doors with magnetic locks. Skarzinski said staffing the entrance may be a hurdle and stated that they "will need to work out a schedule to man that door, even during lunch."
Superintendent Joe Mace pointd out that the BOE building has an Alternative Learning Center in which "school kids are here every day, parents every day. We probably should've done this a long time ago" and went on to add that he believes the project is "very justified and economical right now." Sylvia McNeish made a motion to approve the spending for the project which Beth Burkhart seconded and the motion carried with no further discussion. The levy budget should provide enough funds to cover the $37,790 project.
The BOE also approved $11,689 for a new phone system at Jane Lew Elementary. The bid was granted to ACC, who was one of three companies that put in for the job. The need for a new phone system arose from the upgrades that Jane Lew Elementary is seeing. The current phone system was maxed out so that additional lines could not be added and the system couldn't be upgraded. ACC will replace the entire phone system and upgrade the phone system's capabilities with no additional conduit needed.
The BOE discussed the Special Education Policy, Chapter 6.45 and voted to move it and the Embedded Credit, Chapter 6.47 to second readings, moving each a step closer to becoming school policy. Chapter 6.7 and 6.8 concerning Graduation Requirements was presented as a second reading and approved, adopting it into school policy to take effect with the 2015-2016 incoming freshman class. Incoming students will need 24 credits to graduate compared to the 27 credits currently required.
Before beginning discussion on the current construction projects the BOE voted to approve the water easement that would provide water to Roanoke Elementary. Then L.D. Skarzinski updated the board on the progress at the new school and said that it looks to be about 50% done. The next construction meeting is scheduled for April 2 where school and construction staff will work together to get a punch out list started.
The gym floor is ready, furniture is on site, case work is in, windows are set, water and electric are on so with good weather concrete can be poured and outside work can be completed. Skarzinski went on to say that the Gilmer County PSD took care of the labor for the installation of the waterlines and Lewis County was responsible for covering the cost of materials and equipment. The BOE recently toured the new school and Debbie Clem said that "it is impressive and I think students and staff will be impressed too."
At Jane Lew Elementary the construction crew was able to take advantage of the good weather and now have roof installed on the front of the building and on the East edition. Brick is being laid, ceiling tiles are being put in and the bathroom demolition is done so the refurbishing can now begin. Jane Lew Elementary is still addressing any concerns staff and parents have about safety and air quality at the school but initial testing revealed safe conditions.
The BOE also approved several other items on the agenda. The Memorandum of Agreement between the WVU Cooperative Extension Service and the County Extension Service Committee was approved for $30,000. $15,000 was approved or agent salary, $3,500 for capital outlay and equipment, $5,500 for travel, $4,000 for office supplies and $2,000 for maintenance and repair. The Memorandum was approved by the County Extension Service Committee at a February 19 meeting.
The board approved use of the RLBMS gym for the V Thunderstorms and Lewis County Maids Basketball training from March 24 to June 30 when available. The Dazzling Diamonds were approved for use of the LCHS auditorium May 27, June 3, June 5 and June 6. The LC Girls Basketball Club was approved for use of the RBLMS Gym from March 24 to June 30 when available. Beth Burkhart was also approved to go to the WVSBA/VSBA Hot Topic Conference in Wytheville, Va on March 27.
In Personnel news the BOE accepted resignations for Willa Davis as substitute teacher and substitute secretary effective immediately and Sharon Hitt as a cook at Jane Lew effective June 30. Jennifer Whiston was approved for an extended medical leave effective March 16 through May 18 and Betty King was approved for an extended medical leave of absence from March 2 to June 30 pending a doctor's evaluation. Amy Gosa's contract was modified to reflect a change in location to LCHS for the 2015-2016 school year and Beverly Butcher's request for a change in employment from 210 days to 250 days was approved and will take effect April 1.
Brittany Cooper was approved for the School Psychologist position, Christina Watson was approved as a Grade 3 Classroom Teacher at Peterson-Central for the 2015-2016 school year and Mary Scott was approved as the Peterson-Central Elementary Assistant Principal. Pending a background check Judith Bennett and Tracy Whitt will be approved as substitute teachers along with Jennifer Rinker and Sarah Wilfong pending a bacground check and certification. Timothy Rittenhouse was approved as a bus driver for the Alum Bridge attendance area, Tracy Harnett as a Temporary Aid at Jane Lew effective March 25 but not exceeding the 2014-2015 school year and Sharon Hitt as a Substitute Cook for the 2015-2016 school year. Approved for extracurricular personnel was Rebecca Hitt as Math Field Day Coordinator, Mary Scott as Title I Schoolwide Project Facilitator at Alum Bridge and James Pinkney as a non-paid tennis coach at LCHS for the 2014-2015 year. Kenton Bozic and Veda Brake were approved as parent volunteers at both LCHS and RLBMS and Ethan Blyler was approved as a volunteer at Peterson-Central Elementary School.
The BOE also broke into executive session upon the request of school bus drivers, mechanics and transportation representatives but no public comment was made. The next regularly scheduled Board of Education Meeting is April 13 at 7 p.m. at Robert L Bland Middle School with a Lewis County School Improvement Council (LCIS) meeting at 6. Another will be held April 27 at Roanoke Elementary at 7 with a LCIS meeting at 6 before the BOE meeting. The Board of Education Office is open through the week and can be reached at 304-269-8300.