PRINCETON — Mercer County’s prosecuting attorney is being asked to reach out to law enforcement agencies to determine if any laws were broken as the result of the former town of Matoaka’s failure to conduct an audit for seven years.
The Mercer County Commission met Tuesday in special session to address several agenda items including the Mercer County Public Service District. Commissioner Bill Archer, who also serves with the Mercer County PSD, read a letter being sent to Charlotte E. Lane, chair of the West Virginia Public Service Commission about the water system and wastewater treatment in Matoaka. The county PSD has been working on the utilities ever since the town voted in May 2019 to disincorporate.
In the letter, the commissioners said after a year-long effort to develop a public entity – the county PSD – that could assume operations of the Matoaka Wastewater Treatment Plant, and on a recommendation from MCPSD President Mike Kennett, the “Mercer County Commission agrees to place the Matoaka matter on ‘a back burner’ as recommended by the MCPSD, and urges the newly-formed PSD to concentrate its efforts on providing public water to residents in the greater Camp Creek area.
The commission is also seeking to recover Mercer County taxpayer funds “that have been used in support of Matoaka during the 22 months since they started the charter dissolution process,” the commissioners said in their letter to the state PSD.
During those 22 months, county taxpayers have provided $12,265 to the town to help cover equipment repairs, legal assistance and operations of the water and wastewater facilities as well as administrative services of the town, according to the letter. Taxpayers have also covered $2,320 on postage for water and sewer bills, office supplies and labor.
“The totals do not include the unknown number of hours the three county commissioners have worked to assist the people of Matoaka, Mercer County,” according to the commission’s letter.
There were also questions concerning what had happened to lottery funds which were sent to the town. The commission is asking County Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler “to reach out to local, state and federal law enforcement investigators to determine what, if any, laws have been broken as a result of failure to conduct an audit for seven years and any other breaches of municipal responsibility and public trust that may have contributed to Matoaka’s present situation,” commissioners said in their letter.
“In addition, Prosecutor Sitler and others may be able to find out who has been receiving money the State Treasurer has been sending Matoaka in the form of table game distributions, video lottery proceeds and Greenbrier Table Game funds,” commissioners said. “In November 2019 alone, Matoaka reportedly received $920.69 in table game funds; $28.78 in Greenbrier Table Game funds; and on October 28, 2019, received $92.87. Matoaka Mayor Marsha Howell said the town hasn’t received those funds from some time. The Treasurer’s Office said the funds come from the State Lottery. Perhaps Mr. Sitler can get a response from the State Lottery.”
Archer said later that the county commission was trying to “get the entities moving on the project.”
“This county has already spent nearly $15,000. It’s not our money, it’s the taxpayers’ money, and we are supposed to be the guardians of that money; so we can’t continue to keep spending money from the taxpayers’ gift to our county to keep it operational to have people say, ‘well, you’re going to have to wait another two months or you’re going to have to wait another two weeks, whatever the case is,” Archer said. “We need to get some resolution to this or else we need to take off in a different direction. I am 100 percent behind and for the people of Matoaka, but there are all the kind of the hurdles that we’ve been having to climb over. This is two years, 22 months is how long we’ve been doing all the mailings and doing all the other kind of things from broken pumps and helping with some of the payroll. That’s a tremendous chunk out of a county our size.”
The county commission has asked the State Auditor “who should have told us that Matoaka was in this kind of trouble,” Archer said. “Is it the Attorney General’s Office? Whose office is it that tells you a community is in trouble so you can work in tandem with them before they get into the condition where they had to dissolve their charter and go through all other things which are, quite frankly, costly to the public? Also in the case of the wastewater treatment plant, it has an adverse affect on the environment.”
“That’s important for us to know that, but nobody, nobody said that one key component had not been attended to for seven consecutive years,” Archer stated. “To me, I just like to know who is responsible to tell us so we can take action or to help us get to the root of that problem before it becomes a problem.”
State records indicate lottery money is still going to Maotaka, “but who’s getting it?” Archer added.
“The mayor says she’s not getting it to pay those kind of things. It shouldn’t be going anywhere and I’m frustrated in my search for that,” he said. “Hopefully this will close some of that frustration and we can move forward.”
“The money folks are the treasurer. And they say they’re just the check writer,” Archer said. “They get the input of money from the lottery groups, so it’s not really them. It’s not how you would think it would be. You think somebody would be responsible for it.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com