Wetzel County Discusses Investigative Matters
The Wetzel County Commission held its regularly scheduled meeting on June 11 with President Larry Lemon, Vice President Lisa Heasley, and Commissioner Greg Morris present. Also present was Wetzel County Clerk Carol Haught.
Sheriff Michael Koontz and Timothy Haught, Prosecuting Attorney, appeared before the commission regarding investigative matters and discussion of vehicles. Haught explained to the commission that the prosecutors office has an investigation fund that they almost exclusively use for providing money for investigations relative to the selling of drugs. What that entails is when law enforcement develops a confidential informant, they come to him and requests a certain amount of money to make controlled buys, which is the name given for when they conduct a drug investigation. It was reported that they might make four or five controlled buys. Haught stated that he likes to get at least three. The reason for making multiple controlled buys is to ensure there is ample evidence if there happens to be a problem with one. For example, an issue could be that the recording or video isn’t clear enough. Koontz also pointed out that doing this shows that there’s a pattern and it’s not a one time thing.
Haught said that he has gotten convictions where there was no video or audio, and has also gotten a lot of convictions where the video or audio has been poor. However, it was said that it’s much easier to get a conviction when they have good video or audio and they have multiple buys. That way, if there’s some technical problem with the first buy, they can then go to the second buy. Three buys is typically what they try to aim for, although they don’t always acheive this as sometimes they use a buy bust, which refers to making a buy and then immediately making an arrest. Haught pointed out that the problem with that is that they compromise their confidential informant and they’re unable to adequately find out the extent of what’s going on. However, sometimes there’s a person in the community that they have intelligence on that they know is selling and they want to take them off the streets. As such, they will do a buy bust if possible. Koontz stated that this doesn’t further the investigation, and that it doesn’t allow them to find out all the parties.
He said that if one looks at some of the larger investigations they have done, they have gone on for months and have involved multiple parties. He noted that the issue is that they must have not only a cooperating individual to do those investigations, but also money.
Haught stated that when he first took office, the investigative fund started off with $10,000. He explained that he has been here almost 20 years and they have ran the fund without transferring any money out of his budget or asking the commission for any money for that investigative fund. The way they operate that is, whenever they make an arrest and the person being arrested has money on them, the law enforcement siezes that cash and it is forfeited. Then, 90 percent of that money goes to the agency that does the arrest for the purpose of buying drug surveillance equipment or investigative things that they need. The Prosecuting Attorney’s office gets the other 10 percent to go back into the investigative fund. The account is now down to $900. Haught wanted to make the commission aware that there may be a time soon that they have to request money from the commission to help fund that account if it continues to decrease. The commission stated that there would be no objection to helping fund the account if need be.
Koontz then advised the commission that they have another cruiser that broke down. It was said to be a 2013 Ford Explorer, and the transmission went out in it. They have been told by two different shops that the cost of replacing the transmission will be around $4,500. He said that the question he then asked was if it’s worth replacing the transmission for that old of a car or not based on what the value of the car is versus the cost. The book value of the car is about $7,500 according to Kelley Blue Book. They are then left with the decision of whether they should pay $4,500 to repair a $7,500 car, or to replace the car. Koontz got a quote on a new car which was $33,250 and they would probably only need about $5,000 for updating as he thinks they can use a lot of the equipment from the old car on the new car. This brings the total to $38,250, which possibly could be less if they can use more of the equipment that they already have on the old car. Koontz asked about trading the vehicle in. Basically, an individual at the dealership told him to take the book value of the vehicle and divide it in half and that would be about what they would give them on a trade in. This is because of it being a police car , which all have holes drilled in them. It is also said to be a lower end package without all of the extras on it that a normal vehicle probably would have. The individual also said that they would also deduct for the transmission being messed up, the amount most likely being about the cost of the transmission. If they trade it in, with those estimates, they would not receive anything for the car.
Following his presentation and request for funding, Commissioner Lisa Heasley made a motion to approve the request from the Sheriff for the purchase of a new vehicle from Stephens Auto. The motion was seconded by Morris, and upon vote, was passed unanimously. Koontz thanked the commissioners.
In other business, Keith Williams, Chief of Hundred Fire Department, came before the commission with a request for expanding of the ambulance service. He stated that he wants to put his own service in his station and supplement Wetzel County Ambulance so that if they’re not available, they can take care of it. The reason for the request is that they are not serviced well as it takes 45 minutes for an ambulance to get to them. Williams stated that they are already running a rapid response unit there and are covering almost all of the calls. However, all they can do is stabilize and stay with the patient until an ambulance comes. He stated that he is not requesting funding from the commission, all he requested was for their blessing to move forward. He reported that he already has almost everything he needs to begin. He also has EMT’s as well as two Paramedics that are willing to volunteer. Williams stressed that he does not want to take over for the ambulance service that is already in existence, he just wants to supplement when it is needed. The commission stated that their decision is partly influenced by what the Ambulance Authority says. They are fully supportive of saving residents who are waiting 45 minutes and they would hope that the Ambulance Authority would see the situation the same way. However, since they haven’t yet been consulted, they would like to have full consultation of everyone involved before they move forward.
Also, at the Wetzel County Commission’s regular meeting Tuesday, June 18, the commission received open bids for the roof restoration project of the Shiben Building. KalKreuth Roofing of Wheeling was the only bidder. They had a bid of $45,600. The commission approved the KalKreuth bid for the two story Shiben Building to replace the roof with a cost of $45,600. This cost may be less if they make the decision to remove the skylights and not have them replaced.
The commission approved a donation to the city of Paden City for the purchase of a compact utility tractor for city use in the amount of $22,390.
Rosemary Guida from Workforce WV also appeared before the commission to give an update on activities. She started with their individual training account, which is their voucher program where they pay for people to go back to school. She stated that they don’t have a waiting list, and currently have 232 participants. She pointed out that their numbers are down a little bit this year as a result of a couple reasons. The first being that the unemployment rate is low in the state. The second being that they are not getting the traffic in the one stop centers anymore for unemployment compensation as it is now possible to file online. Therefore, they have had to switch their outreach method to try to reach those people. She noted that typically, when they’re collecting unemployment, they want to collect it until they have only two weeks remaining and then they decide what they want to do. This will typically be training or job placement.
The next report Guida gave was the Youth Program Activity Report that ended on May 31. She stated that everything looks good, and said that they served 126 kids. The expenditures also appeared to be good. She provided a county breakout showing that Wetzel County had 28 kids. She noted that they have always had a good working relationship with the schools which is proven by the high numbers. She stated that they are now getting ready for their summer Youth Program, Youth Service Systems, Inc. She also pointed out that the work experience programs run year long. It was said that it is not just a part of the Summer youth, but they also have a Spring Works, Winter Works, and a Fall Works.
The next report was the “On-The-Job” Activity Report. They have one employer they’re working with – Key & Sons Welding. They reported that they wish to hire four people through them. A lot of the issues that they have with this program is finding people who want to work. Guida thinks that’s an issue everywhere, not just in West Virginia. It seems to be a problem across the country, according to Guida. She noted that the employers have been really great with helping them. This program recently started on January 1, and they have obligated $42,065. She feels that it will be a program that will continue into next year with their employers.
The next report was the “SNAP” Program Report which is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They receive about $57,000 from W.Va. DHHR to operate the program.
The last handout Guida gave the commission was for project “Reboot” to help individuals who are impacted by the opiod epidemic. They were funded $151,600 to serve 15 people.