Upshur County Commissioners Court on Monday informally authorized County Judge Dean Fowler to decide whether to reinstitute a ban on outdoor rural burning which he recently lifted after heavy rain.
Fowler read a letter from a woman asking the court to reimpose the restriction because her neighbors were setting fires and leaving them unattended. She said a fire department had been out to save her house once recently from a blaze.
Fowler also said a Gilmer Fire Dept. official had reported the department handled seven fires Tuesday and 12 Wednesday before rain this weekend, and that the official wanted the ban reimposed. Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry said rainfall had gotten the ground wet, but that vegetration was still dry.
After Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer suggested letting Fowler reinstate the ban if needed, Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka asked the judge, "Why don't we just let you listen to fire departments. . .(and if the ban needs reimposing), get her done?" Fowler replied, "Okay."
In other business, the court approved paying for county workers and their families to utilize a telephone service called "Consult-A-Doc," which allows calling physicians for medical advice in lieu of visiting a doctor's office.
After the meeting, Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said the service will save the county money on its medical insurance costs because a telephone consultation is cheaper than an office visit. The county will pay $3 monthly per person for 178 people on the county payroll and their families, and the physicians can call in prescriptions to pharmacies.
The county and its workers will be charged nothing else unless a worker fails to pre-register online, in which case he/she must pay a one-time $10 "set-up fee."
During the meeting, Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry said the plan would save money because if four families went to a doctor's office in one month, that would cost $534--the total amount the county will pay monthly for the phone service.
In other business Monday, the court met in closed session with its attorney and an insurance adjuster on a pending federal lawsuit brought by a Vermont organization against the county. However, the court took no vote on the matter in open session afterward.
Prison Legal News filed the suit last Nov. 26 in U.S. District Court at Marshall against the county, Sheriff Anthony Betterton, and Sheriff's Lt. Jill McCauley, alleging the county violated its rights to free speech by rejecting and returning magazines and books it mailed to county jail prisoners. The organization says it "educates prisoners about their legal rights" and charged its publications were wrongfully censored.
Dallas attorney Cass Wieland and the adjuster met with the court for about an hour in closed session, said Fowler
In other business Monday, the court held brief public hearings on District Clerk Carolyn Parrott's and County Clerk Barbara Winchester's separate Records Management Plans before approving both. Only the two clerks addressed the hearings, with Mrs. Parrott announcing she was planning on buying a scanner this year while Mrs. Winchester reported her office will work on oil and gas records.
The court also Monday approved sheriff's and constables' fees for 2014, effective Jan. 1. They will be $100 for citations, $50 for postings, and $125 for writs.
In other action Monday, the court:
--Approved increasing the county's bandwidth after Fowler said the county had been dropping phone calls, and that the measure will be necessary for the county's new computer system. The court raised its payment from the current $400 monthly to $700.
--Approved a resolution seeking a grant for defense attorneys' fees for the indigent.
--Approved the schedule of court meeting dates, county payroll dates, and county holidays for 2014. Fowler said the number of holidays is the same as for 2013.
--Authorized auctioning of surplus county property from Oct. 22-Nov. 12 through the Website Express website. Fowler said the county received no bids on some tires it offered for sale, so the court added them to the auction.
--Approved accepting portions of Grace Lane and Faith Lane into the county road inventory for county maintenance, while placing other portions of the two roads on the two-year waiting list to be admitted into the inventory.