WELLSBURG — A meeting with state economic development officials attended by officials from Brooke and Hancock counties has left Brooke County Commissioners hopeful the counties will be among the first to proceed with the extension of high-speed Internet to all homes and businesses.
Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, noted the three commissioners and three Hancock County commissioners met Aug. 10 with state Secretary of Commerce Mitch Carmichael and officials with the state Economic Development Office to seek funding for their combined broadband effort.
Paprocki noted state officials have announced plans to allocate $30 million to provide matching funds for counties and municipalities pursuing their own Internet expansion projects.
The money is a portion of $138 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds the state intends to divide among statewide and local broadband efforts while subsidizing broadband connections to rural areas by private Internet providers.
County Commissioner Tim Ennis said the state officials were impressed the two counties jointly commissioned a feasibility study performed by CityNet of Bridgeport, W.Va.
“They were so excited to see how far ahead we were from everybody else in the state,” he said.
County Commissioner Stacey Wise said the commissioners benefited from the support of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle and BHJ, with the latter providing a great deal of information to the state officials.
“There wasn’t a question they (state officials) had that BHJ didn’t have an answer for them,” said Wise, adding, “Really, BHJ hit a home run.”
Paprocki replied, “That’s a triple. A home run is when we see it built.”
In addition to Paprocki, BHJ was represented by its office manager, Adrienne Ward, who with Mark Henne, oversaw a BHJ study showing the need and demand for high-speed Internet in the two counties.
During the study, input was sought from business leaders, emergency officials and through an online survey, various citizens.
Ward said the goal will be to pursue the extension of fiberoptic lines known for their speed in delivering data.
BDC Executive Director Marvin Six, who attended the Charleston meeting with assistant director Jacob Keeney, said though Brooke and Hancock counties are among the smallest in the state, they have been a center of economic development, with more to come through the natural gas industry.
“The impact here is going to be tremendous,” he said, adding, “I think the development office was very impressed with the presentation.”
In other business:
– Paprocki updated the commission on recent figures from the Census Bureau. He said while many reflect a decline in population, most aren’t as severe as BHJ had anticipated.
According to the 2020 Census, Brooke County has lost about 1,500 residents since 2010, bringing its total to about 22,559.
Totals for its municipalities are 19,163 for Weirton, a loss of about 500; 2,450 for Wellsburg, a loss of about 355; 781 for Bethany, a loss of about 255; and 2,848 for Follansbee, a loss of about 92.
County officials theorized the loss for Bethany was because Bethany College students weren’t on campus last year because of the pandemic.
Paprocki noted Beech Bottom gained about 30 residents, bringing its population to 553, according to the census.
– Larry Wallbrown, the county’s buildings director, said installation of a new elevator for the county courthouse is slated to occur between late October and early December, during which access to the upper floors will be by the stairs only.
He added the work, which an inconvenience, must be done to comply with state regulations.
Thomas said staff from upstairs will meet with visitors downstairs as needed until the new elevators is installed.
Awarded to the Schindler Elevator Corp., the $113,500 project will be funded by a $100,000 grant from the state Courthouse Facilities Improvement Council and a 10 percent local match.
– The commission agreed to seek bids for 18 bulletproof vests and related gear for the sheriff’s department and
new equipment and furniture for the county’s emergency 911 center.
Plans call for the new center to be relocated from an area adjacent to the sheriff’s department at the county courthouse to the judicial chambers adjacent to the main courtroom.