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A year ago this week, our collective world was upended. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, while our state saw schools and businesses shutdown. In the year that has passed we have all had our own share of challenges. But despite those challenges, I am proud of the work your County Commission has accomplished this past year WITH our community partners who continue to help move our county forward.

With a laser beam focus on community safety, but being mindful that the county’s business must continue, we had to improvise and adapt. With our courthouse shutdown to in-person service for a time, we needed to find a way for our citizens to continue to be able to do their business at their courthouse. With this in mind, we purchased software that allowed for the online payments of property taxes, and in partnership with the Sheriff’s Office implemented the service in a short time frame. It was clear with the large volume of payments coming through the new system that it was a worthy investment.

Whether it be broadband, cell service, or drinking water, the investments being made in critical infrastructure in Lincoln County have not taken a back seat, even in these days that test us. Early on in the pandemic, the county commission facilitated a partnership with Appalachian Power, Armstrong Cable, and the county board of education to install hotspots at all county schools. This enabled many students and families who did not have access to quality broadband, a mechanism to engage in their online/remote instruction. Construction of cell towers in the Ranger and Harts area were also completed and activated providing long awaited cell service to thousands of our citizens. Additionally, the Lower Mud water line extension was completed, providing quality drinking water to fellow Lincoln Countians.

From a fiscal standpoint, the county’s house is in order. For the first time many years, the county’s regional jail bill is being paid in full, with a full payoff of the balance imminent. It has been difficult, to say the least, over the last number of years with the loss of nearly 25% of the county’s general revenue, due to the loss of our coal severance dollars. However, the county commission has lived within its means and made YOUR tax dollars go farther without increasing taxes, fees, or eliminating services to our citizens.

Economic Development is a never ceasing challenge in southern West Virginia, but we are striving to meet that challenge head on here in Lincoln County. Our partners at the state and our local Lincoln County Economic Development Authority have continued to explore new ways to move our county forward. Whether it be pushing for new tenants at our business park, the further development of the Hatfield-Mcoy Trail at Ivy Branch,promoting our rivers and lake, or working with our neighboring counties to bring long-term development to the old Hobet mine site; we continue to work together to bring activity and hope to our area.

Nobody ever accomplishes anything alone. This has never been more true than this year with regard to our first responders. If not for the efforts of our health department staff and health care workers at our clinics doing the necessary contact tracing, testing, and now executing the long-awaited vaccination clinics, the situation this past year would have been much darker. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. Further, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most recent efforts of our Emergency Services Personnel and Volunteer Fire Departments. These were the folks who kept the generators working at our PSD’s to keep water flowing and provided warming stations for those in need during the ice storm. The definition of true community partners.

While we have continued to meet success in these most challenging times, there is still much more work to do. But if this year has taught us anything, it is that regardless of the obstacles in front of us, we can meet them head on if we find a way to tackle them together.

Josh Stowers can be reached at josh.stowers@gmail.com.

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