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Morgantown councilors review American Rescue Plan spending options

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Elected leaders in Morgantown had the first opportunity to look at the summary and scoring of potential uses for the first installment of $5,621.754.50 in American Rescue Plan funds. Next spring, a like amount will be received bringing the total in American Rescue Plan money received by the city to $11,243,509. Under provisions of the act, the money must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Members of the public voiced preferences from August 1 to August 21, during that time 540 responses generated more than 4,000 ideas for projects. Additionally, city leaders and department heads were available to answer questions during two additional public meetings.

The categories included water and sewer infrastructure, public health, social services, downtown/community investment, emergency services, planning and technology.

City manager Kim Haws said they plan to maximize the value of the money by collaborating with other agencies and using available grants where possible.

“If we can leverage other funds and use these fund as a match to other grants and other funds that will be our highest priority,” Haws said,” Then we can make the dollars go farther.”

The ideas were scored on a 4-point scale and only projects with the quickest, greatest impact could score a 4 on the scale.

City manager Haws also presented a plan to use $800,000 to help facilitate a move for Milan Puskar Health Right up to Scott Avenue near the new sober center in the former Ramada Inn property. Milan Puskar Health Right executive director Laura Jones told council members they are looking at a property on Scott Avenue that would be suitable for their operation.

Haws told council members moving Milan Puskar Health Right would help the downtown area focus on business development.

“It also helps the traffic and congestion in the downtown area,” Haws said,” So, now the downtown is for shopping, for families to gather and mental health services are provided in one location.”

Milan Puskar Health Right has been in the downtown location since May of 2003. Health Right is a primary care clinic that provides health care at no cost to uninsured or underinsured low-income residents of North Central West Virginia.

The city administration has also proposed a $200,000 allocation in addition to the facade improvement program currently offered by Main Street Morgantown.

“Grants some additional grants which would require a 30-percent match up to $20,000 to be given to improve building facades,” Haws said,” And interior improvements to enhance the appearance and vibrancy of the downtown area.”

According to the information provided by the city administration, total small business assistance grants of $500,000 would be set aside in amounts of $10,000 each to new and existing business owners.

“We might find these grants really do stimulate small businesses and make them vital,” Haws said,” If so, we may choose to go ahead and continue funding with grants next spring.”

In addition to $600,000 to address abandoned structures, funds are also being considered for rental assistance and low-income homeowner support fund.

“These are grants for homeowners to make upgrades to their home if they need a new roof, if they need sidewalk repairs or many others programs for families that have been impacted,” assistant city manager Emily Muzzarelli said.

The city is partnering with MUB to find a solution for flooding in the Pompano Run area. Several homes and businesses were damage by high than normal rainfall this summer. Cost estimates for the project are in excess of $4 million, so efforts will be made to locate matching funds for that project.

Other priorities include providing aid for travel and tourism, promote city events, downtown outdoor dining and clean water issues.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Fairmont mother, boyfriend indicted in toddler death

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – A Marion County grand jury has indicted to Fairmont residents in the abuse-related death of a four-year-old boy earlier this year.


The grand jury indicted the mother, Ashlee Starlene Allen, 27, and her boyfriend Walter Everett Richardson, 34, in the incident that began at Ruby Memorial Hospital in January. Nurses noted injuries consistent with child abuse and summoned CPS workers.


In the January incident CPS workers, Breeana Bizub, 25, and Tabetha Phillips-Friend, 44, were called to the hospital and prepared a temporary protective order. During that meeting the boy told workers he was afraid of Richardson and that he had tried to hurt him.

An additional portion of the order barring Richardson from being in Allen’s home was not monitored by the CPS workers.

On March 4, the boy was found unresponsive in the Fairmont home and was transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital.

When the toddler was taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital he was placed on life support and doctors identified more than 50 injuries to his body, including missing teeth, bruises on his arms, and a shoe print-shaped bruise on his right shoulder. By March 8, the toddler’s brain function had ceased and he was declared dead.

Bizub and Phillips-Friend were terminated and charged with involuntary manslaughter and failure to report child abuse to law enforcement.

Allen has been indicted for death of a child by a parent, guardian or custodian. Richardson has been indicted for death of a child by a parent and first degree murder.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Municipalities, Mon County leaders set collaboration meeting for this week

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Commissioners in Monongalia County and Morgantown leaders will hold the first of what officials hope will be many more collaboration meetings Wednesday. Commissioner Tom Bloom said this meeting is an extension of coordination meetings that occurred during the pandemic between the city administration and the county commission, on WAJR’s Talk of the Town.

“We have actually nine topics, the first ones are broadband and airport commerce just to explain what’s going on,” Bloom said,” So, we’ll have Russ Rogerson and MAP (Morgantown Area Partnership) there.”

The agenda for the meeting will include roads, social services, the sober center, recreational facilities, tourism and spending federal coronavirus relief money.

“The flooding issue- I’ve contacted MUB and they should be coming,” Bloom said,” We have a proposal in front of us about Pompano Run which could help solve some of the problems there and I think everyone should hear it.”

Many homes and businesses were flooded June 13 when more than three inches of rain fell in short period of time. MECCA 911 officials continue to work with the Department of Homeland Security for a disaster declaration as a result of that event.

There are many opportunities given the potential leverage of combining a portion American Rescue plan money on projects that would benefit city and county residents. Over previous meetings with the city administration common goals have been identified that could also create a common growth plan.

“I believe there is the opportunity now. We need to do this for the community,” Bloom said,” I think COVID has brought us closer together and for that we have the basis to move forward.”

In addition to Morgantown and county officials, the invitation has also been extended to surround municipalities. Much like the broadband expansion plan underway by the commission, officials want to progress in unison across the county.

“Star City, Westover and Granville- each one has their own interests, but we need to start pulling together,” Bloom said,” I think it’s very apparent that if all five cities don’t com together we’re not going to be able to compete nationally.”

The meeting will be available to the public, but the meeting will not be open to public comment. According to Bloom, officials want the time to address topics important to developing a future relationship.

“We will all be sitting down discussing issues,” Bloom said,” It will be streamed live, so anyone in the public doesn’t have to come here to see it. But, it isn’t for public input, it’s for the city and county to discuss issues.”

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Body pulled from Mon River, detectives look for clues

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Fishermen in Morgantown found a body floating in the Monongahela River around 5 p.m. Friday in the area of Monongahela Boulevard, north of the power station on Beechurst Avenue and south of the WVU Core Arboretum.

The body has been identified as Jeffrey Uphold, 23, of Bruceton Mills. Uphold was reported missing to the Morgantown Police Department by family members on September. 14. An autopsy is scheduled for today in Charleston.

Anyone with information about Uphold is asked to call the Morgantown Police Department Detective Division at 304-284-7454.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Principal: Driver of Hedgesville football charter bus arrested for DUI
Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Morgantown firefighters prepare to appeal holiday backpay order

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in favor of Morgantown in the battle between the city and firefighters for holiday backpay. Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 and attorney Teresa Toriseva plan to appeal the ruling.

In lawsuit filed in June of 2019, the plaintiffs asserted firefighters were improperly paid for holidays. The suit said firefighters were were only paid 12-hours for for each holiday shift when they actually work 24-hours.

The city acknowledged the incorrect holiday pay calculations and corrected the situation moving forward with an ordinance in February of 2020.

“The IAFF does not agree with the order, but we respect the process and the judge,” Toriseva said.

During more than two years of litigation there have been four failed mediation attempts and numerous court dates, all funded by taxpayers. Over that period the side were close, but Toriseva said the city was not willing to move at all during the negotiations with firefighters.

“We remained then willing to move- there was no movement from the city as a matter of fact,” Toriseva said.

Firefighters and Toriseva contend the city violated state law until the ordinance was passed in February of 2020. Further, the judge ruled firefighters are not eligible backpay, but Paid Time Off- another difference the plaintiffs have with Judge Gaujot’s ruling.

“We have to pursue it until either victory in court or you’re at the highest court,” Toriseva said,” Both sides have to look at it that way.”

The court ruling is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks while the appeal is finalized. According to Toriseva, firefighters are members of the community that run to the chaos to render aid in emergency situations and that will not change.

“There is a sense of realism I think among the membership and an absolute sense of duty and they’re on the job,” Toriseva said,” They’re back on dity today brushing it off.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

WVSP, others prepare for capacity crowd in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia State Police will busy long before kick off of the first game of 2021 that is expected to be at full capacity. For the first time since 2017, the Virginia Tech Hokies will play the Mountaineers for the Black Diamond trophy.

Veteran state police Sgt. C. D. Whetzel told WAJR News they will work with other area law enforcement agencies to get fans in and out of Milan Puskar Stadium quickly and safely.

“We’ll have approximately 35 troopers assigned to the traffic detail, Whetzel said,” Of course we’ll have a large contingency of troopers assigned to the stadium detail as well.”

The noon kickoff will compress traffic as compared to late afternoon or evening kickoff that can spread traffic volume out over the day.

“It brings folks in more at one time,” Whetzel said,” So, traffic coming into the game becomes a little more centralized and that’s why we recommend allowing yourself a little more time in the morning to get here.”

According to Whetzel, police are looking at plans from last week, but they understand more fans and a Hokie fan base that will likely travel well means more traffic at the beginning and end of the day.

“There were approximately 45,000 fans at the last game and we’re looking at a capacity crowd of 60,000-plus this week,” Whetzel said.

Law enforcement agencies will also patrol the greater Morgantown area during the game, and after when post-game get togethers are expected.

” In an emergency we can of course hold those troopers from the stadium to assist with traffic or any large issues that we would have,” Whetzel said,” So, we do have extra troopers in the area.”

Whetzel said motorists can help with traffic flows leaving the game by using Route 705 across the Mileground and to I-68.

Football fans and revelers can expect a zero tolerance response throughout day when it comes to celebrations and tailgate parties.

” Please don’t get on the roadways if you’ve been drinking,” Whetzel said,” Use a designated driver, call someone- do what you need to do.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Board of Governors at WVU passes on vaccine mandate, reviews improved numbers from last year

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Board of Governors met Friday and passed on implementing a vaccine mandate. University officials told board members mitigation strategies are working, vaccination numbers are up and rates of infection are much lower than last year.

Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president of academic affairs for West Virginia University said it has been a team effort between students and faculty to maintain academic progress one year after the infection rate sent all classes online.

“We are again asking our instructors to be patient and flexible with our students and provide them with reasonable accommodations,” Reed said,” Providing them class notes or allowing them to make up assignments because we don’t want students to feel pressured to come to class if they aren’t feeling well.”

Vice president of strategic initiatives, Rob Alsop said isolation numbers have dropped about 47 percent from last year relieving much of the staff burden. Lower numbers also mean less contact tracing which has been a very labor intensive process in areas with high infection rates. Additionally, this year many more activities are open like Up All Night and WVU Recreation Center.

“About this point in time last year we had paused and moved all our courses online because of the skyrocketing cases,” Alsop said,” This year paints a different picture even though we have a lot more activity on our campus. Last year we had more than 900 in quarantine and this year we have less than 200.”

Classrooms are still euipped with plexiglass barriers, masks are again mandatory in indoor areas and social distancing remains an important part of the mitigation strategy.

When the Delta variant began to sweep across the state university officials raised the vaccination goal from 70-percent to 85-percent. Campus efforts to educate have resulted in about 77-percent of students and 74-percent of employees getting the shot.

“Almost 92-percent of our instructors are vaccinated, our residence hall students are at 79-percent,” Alsop said,” I give our Greek leadership a lot of credit, they set out to have their group highly vaccinated. They were a group where there was a lot of spread of COVID last year- we have not seen that this year.”

Vaccination rates on campus are still climbing. Alsop noted very productive conversations with the Faculty Assembly that has asked for a vaccine mandate effective January 1. Despite an additional calls for a mandate from the Student Government Association, Alsop said the current strategy will remain in place.

“Our best and most effective strategy will be to continue to convince folks because there’s a lot vaccine hesitancy out there,” Alsop said,” Hopefully that hesitancy will wane when folks continue to see these vaccine safe very safe and very effective.”

Unlike last year, a normal fall schedule will continue. Fall break will be observed October 7 and 8, fall recess will be from November 20 through 28 and final exams are scheduled from December 13 through 17.

“I think our kids and the president has indicated it- they are thrilled to be back,” Alsop said,” Our results from our protections have been good and if we have to move additionally from this comprehensive strategy we’ll do so.”

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

Summary judgement in favor of Morgantown handed down in firefighter backpay case

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gauijot has granted a summary judgement in favor of the city of Morgantown in the more than two year battle with firefighter over holiday backpay.

In June of 2019, attorneys with Triseva Law filed suit on behalf of 57 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 saying, the city violated state code for decades when they compensated firefighters for only 12 hours of time off for each holiday shift when they actually work 24 hour shifts. State law requires firefighters to be paid time-and-a-half, or be given equivalent time if the holiday falls on a work shift.

The judge told attorney for the firefighters, James Miller with Toriseva Law that he was not held by opinions referenced by plaintiffs in favor of firefighters from Judge David Sims in Brooke County or Judge Laura Faircloth in Berkley County.

Judge Gaujot cited a 1977 legal opinion by then Attorney General Chauncy Browning and the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in the Pullano v, City of Bluefield case in ruling the city can correct decades of improper holiday pay for the 57 firefighters through time off, rather than backpay.

The judge also disagreed with an assertion by plaintiffs the backpay would fall under the provisions of the West Virginia Payment and Collection Act.

Gaujot cited a lack of diligence and delay by firefighters in the decades the improper pay procedure was allowed to continue and reduced the backpay period from 5 years to 2 years. The two years of backpay will be calculated from the plaintiff’s court filing date of June 7, 2019.

Judge Gaujot has ordered both sides to agree on a special commissioner that would determine the amount of time off that will be given to firefighters.

Attorney Teresa Toriseva said a appeal is planned.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV

WVU Staff Council encourages campus community to get vaccinated, seek medical advice

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Staff Council has issued a statement encouraging staff members to get the coronavirus vaccine.

University leadership has received petitions and letters of support for a vaccine mandate from the West Virginia Assembly Faculty Assembly and WVU Student Government Association.

An April poll conducted on campus showed 48-percent of the campus community disagreed or strongly disagreed with the university effort to strongly encourage the vaccine.

The full statement:

As seen by our recent poll, a mandate is popular within a small majority of the staff population. However, based on comments there is also support for the vaccine in those who do not wish to see a mandate. Given this information, Classified Staff Council strongly encourages all Staff members to get a vaccine to both protect their own health and the health of our community. As the situation in our state becomes more dire, it is important to protect yourself now. If you have fears regarding the vaccine, please contact your Doctor as they can help you make the best choice for your own medical situation. Classified Staff Council will continue to support all Staff and help them navigate any new challenges that may arise as the pandemic continues.

WVU Staff Council 2021-2023

The West Virginia University coronavirus dashboard reports nearly 78 percent of students and 75-percent of faculty are fully vaccinated as of September 14.

The West Virginia Board of Governors meets Friday and will likely address the issue.

Source: Local News | 104.5 FM & 1440 AM | The Voice of Morgantown | Morgantown, WV