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West Virginia COVID-19 responses create confusion

WELLSBURG — Brooke County Commissioners said Tuesday that two efforts by state officials related to the COVID-19 pandemic, while well meaning, have created confusion.

The commissioners said they have concerns about how a $100,000 grant awarded by the county and others in the state may be used while efforts by the Secretary of State’s Office to inform voters about absentee ballots have inadvertently created more work for the county clerk’s office.

The commissioners noted Gov. Jim Justice has described the money as “hero pay” but said they’ve learned the money can’t be used for regular wages and they’re not sure it can be used to pay overtime worked by first responders.

In a letter to the commissioners and commissioners of each of the state’s 55 counties, Justice states the money is “to help pay extraordinary costs that your county and the municipalities within your county are incurring for the first responders and true soldiers right on the front lines of this pandemic.”

In his letter Justice notes the funds, which come through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, must be used for “expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic” between March 1 and Dec. 30 of this year and may not be expenses included in the current budget of any county or municipality.

While the governor alludes to overtime pay for law enforcement, paramedics and other first responders, the commissioners said it’s not clear what work beyond treatment of someone with the virus may be considered related to the pandemic.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said the West Virginia County Commissioners Association and Association of County Officials are seeking clarification. Wise said counties have until the end of the year to spend the money and may not want to expend it too quickly, not knowing what issues lie ahead.

“We haven’t incurred a lot because luckily, we haven’t been hit hard,” she said.

Commission President Tim Ennis said the local governments might be better aided with funds to offset revenue lost from businesses that have been shuttered.

On Tuesday Mike Bolen, administrator of the county’s health department, reported of three confirmed cases in Brooke, one has recovered. Bolen reported earlier that each of the three had self-isolated at home.

In other business, the commission said they have agreed to hire four temporary workers to assist the county clerk’s office in contacting residents about filing absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election.

County Clerk Kim Barbetta said hundreds of absentee ballot application cards mailed by the Secretary of State to Brooke County residents were returned as undeliverable by the Postal Service.

Barbetta said the residents’ addresses hadn’t been updated with voter registration since they were changed to citystyle addresses.

She said anyone who hasn’t received a card by Monday and wishes to cast an absentee ballot should call (304) 737-3668. The deadline to submit the applications is June 3 but voters have been encouraged not to wait until late. Barbetta said there also has been some confusion over ballots available to those registered as independent.

Barbetta said some independent voters mistakenly believe they should request a nonpartisan ballot when may, by permission of the West Virginia Democratic or Republican parties, cast ballots on either of those tickets.

Barbetta said for this reason, independent voters who checked ‘nonpartisan’ will be called by the county to verify which ballot they prefer.

She said as of Tuesday, early in-person voting was still slated for May 27 to June 3 and Election Day for June 9.

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