New Martinsville will likely soon have a law against that prohibits texting or talking on mobile phones, without a hands-free device, while driving.
While the identical state law went into effect on July 1 and was certainly enforceable within the city limits, Police Chief Tim Cecil explains that without the law on the city's books, the charge would go to magistrate court and any fines collected would go to the county.
At the October council meeting, where a first reading of the ordinance was passed, Cecil said, "As of now if we write a citation, the city gets nothing." Council is expected to pass the second reading and adopt the ordinance during their next regular council meeting on Nov. 4.
The fines, identical to the state, are $100 for a first offense; $200, second offense; and $300, third offense. "So it is a pretty hefty penalty," noted Councilman Chris Bachman.
Cecil told council that during the previous week he had issued 13 warnings for these violations. If they had been tickets and the city had the ordinance, it would have brought in over $1,000 for the city.
The ordinance is identical to the state law. It prohibits the use of an electronic communications device while driving or operating a motor vehicle. That means while the vehicle's motor is running, even while "temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays, but does not include operating a motor vehicle after the driver has moved the vehicle to the side of or off of a highway and halted in a location where the vehicle can safety remain stationery."
Like the state law, use is allowed when engaging hands-free equipment. Other exceptions are given for law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of their official duties.
Cecil also pointed out that there is an exemption for anyone who needs to use the phone for an emergency. For instance, "You can call for help when you see a car accident," said Cecil.
In other police news, council approved the purchase of a 2014 Ford Sedan Police Interceptor. The city received a $10,000 grant through Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, toward the purchase of the new cruiser. They worked with Robinson Auto Group to make a road-ready cruiser for $32,015, worked. It will be financed through Peoples Bank at a rate of 2.75 percent.
"We'll get the loan for three years, but now we can pay it off early with no penalty," said Recorder Bonnie Shannon.
The city recently paid off their last cruiser loan, so they want to continue that payment in an effort to get the NMPD's fleet current.
The only additional cost, said Cecil, will be about $200 for the vinyl letter. "It will be marked like the Dodge Charger," he noted, saying the department is working toward making all their vehicles look alike.
Also, council agreed that this will be the last year they will supply an officer to be a Prevention Resource Officer at Magnolia High School. The city has been in negotiations with the Wetzel County Board of Education about the issue. They came up with an agreement that the board will pay half, or $22,000, for the officer. The city has a grant for $20,000.
"We are going to continue the PRO officer for this year," said Bachman, chairman of the city's committee that deals with police issues.
There is one more year that grant money is available for a PRO at MHS. The city of New Martinsville will not apply for the 2014-15 school year, said Bachman.
"After this year, I personally feel the board of education needs to hire their own PRO officer at their own expense," said Pallisco.
Council approved the matter unanimously, with the exception of Councilwoman Iris "Deaner" Isaacs who abstained from all police matters as she is a part-time dispatcher. The city will have Captain Steve Kastigar, the MHS PRO, back full time after the end of the school year.
"I think it's really important that they have a police officer there," said Mayor Keith Nelsen. He added that it is important to have a certified, quality officer in that school, not just a security guard.
Finally, Cecil said he is planning to do the "Shop With A Cop" again this year. It is an event where NMPD officers take low-income kids shopping for Christmas gifts. "The first year we were able to take 13 kids and let them spend $100 each," said Cecil. Last year they took 10 kids at $200 each. He hopes to maintain that level this year.
Dominion has already donated to the project, but he would love to see more individuals or business donate so they can help more children. Cecil noted his department does need to receive the money before the day they go shopping.
The NMPD works with the MHS and New Martinsville School to identify the recipients. "We try to do our best to get it to the kids that need it," said Cecil, who added that they coordinate so it doesn't overlap with other groups that offer Christmas assistance.