WELLSBURG - The Brooke County Commission on Tuesday agreed to hire an architectural firm to plan its proposed extension of the county courthouse and discussed the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the county's employees.
The commission approved a $24,000 contract with the Silling Group of Charleston to determine the feasibility of building an addition to the courthouse, possibly linking to the former county museum.
Two houses between the two buildings were razed recently by the commission to accommodate the proposed expansion.
The commission received news Tuesday that a $14,000 grant has been approved for the project by the West Virginia Development Office.
Commission President Tim Ennis said the architects also will study the county's current facilities to determine how best to meet their needs.
The commissioners have made plans to relocate the county's magistrate and family courts from the third floor of the Progressive Bank building since they learned that area of the building, which is separate from the one used by the bank, doesn't meet state fire regulations. But they said the current courthouse lacks space for the courts, which were moved from the courthouse's first floor during flooding in 2004.
Plans are under way to return the family court temporarily to a conference room on the first floor once occupied by the magistrate court.
County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said before entering into the agreement, he wanted to be sure the architects were aware the courthouse is in a flood zone.
Ennis acknowledged the commission must adhere to a federally mandated flood plan that limits building construction in flood zones.
"When we build it, it will be to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's specifications because we won't be able to get (flood) insurance if we don't," he said.
Les McGowan, chairman of the the county's building commission, noted there have been talks of including a parking garage as the addition's first floor.
In other business, the commission approved the hiring of Daniel Turner, Andrew Lock, Eric Smith, Eric Falk and John Williams II as part-time employees of the county's ambulance service at the recommendation of Ambulance Service Director Bob Fowler.
The commissioners said the hirings address concerns about part-time employees in the ambulance service exceeding 30 hours per week. Ennis said under the Affordable Care Act, employers must offer health coverage to employees who work 30 hours per week.
Following the meeting, Ennis said it's an expense the county can't afford. He said it would cost the county about $144,000 to $400,000 per year to provide individual or family coverage for 20 part-time employees.
"There's no way the county would be able to pay insurance for those folks," he said.
Ennis said the county's current part-time employees don't work more than 20 hours per week as a rule but could be scheduled up to 30 hours if needed.
Ennis asked Jonette Lazasz, an insurance broker, if it will see an increase in insurance costs as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
Lazasz said she doesn't expect that to occur because of the number employed by the county. But she noted the county, like other employers, will pay a 3 percent tax for each policyholder.
The commission also:
* Appointed Jeffrey Van Camp to the Brooke Hills Park board. The commission continues to accept letters of interest in other seats on the board through the office of County Clerk Sylvia Benzo.
* Received a letter from Vicky Gallo seeking reappointment to the county's board of health. It will accept letters of interest in the seat for two weeks, after which it may appoint Gallo or another candidate.
* Learned four homes recently were acquired by Brooke County residents with help from the Northern Panhandle first-time homebuyers program.
Benzo noted through the program, the residents obtained loans of $10,000 or less for the homes and those loans have been forgiven because they have lived in the homes for five years.
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