This week, teachers, service personnel, and other public employees secured a huge victory at the Legislature when Republicans finally agreed to a 5 percent pay increase.
Teachers who've continued to work in West Virginia, despite low pay and eroding benefits, will finally get well-deserved raises. Schools will be able to fill their 700+ vacancies with highly qualified new teachers. But by investing in public education, it's our kids who will benefit most.
This was a victory for union members and leaders, who reinvigorated a labor movement that's been under attack. AFT, WVEA, and WVSSPA members stood shoulder-to-shoulder, by the thousands, in Charleston and at pickets throughout the state. What an inspiration and a teaching moment for the people across West Virginia and across the country!
When I attended the rally at the State Capitol the week before the strike began, I was inspired by the passion of the speakers and the solidarity from other unions. When I visited local pickets, I saw teachers and service personnel who were willing to stand up for what was right and who gathered energy from the thousands of drivers who honked to show their support. There's no doubt that Monongalia County stands behind our public schools!
Raising teacher and service personnel salaries is just the first step toward making public education the priority it should be. Investing in education will bring rewards, not just by opening up opportunities for children, but also by attracting business investment, nurturing entrepreneurs, and developing an educated workforce.
This video talks about my Mom, who was a teacher and a proud union member, and my commitment to public education.
So many of our state roads are in poor condition all across the county. Thank you to the Mon County Commission for organizing an information session with the District Engineer for the state Division of Highways, so that we can learn how the DOH prioritizes its projects. Mon County has the highest population in DOH District 4, and we have 342 miles of paved state roads. But we actually have fewer miles to maintain than Preston or Harrison counties. Unfortunately, funds are allocated based on miles, not population.
Across the state, the DOH maintains more than 36,000 miles of roads--the fourth-largest transportation system in the U.S. With our small population and weak economy, it's a challenge to provide the funding needed to pave roads, fix potholes, clean ditches, and clear snow. Here in Mon Co, people aren't applying for DOH jobs, which leaves the district short 11 employees. That's one or two crews that could be out maintaining the roads.
In addition to explaining challenges, the District Engineer shared the projects planned for Mon County in 2017. As you can see below, a long stretch of Route 7 is being paved, along with several other roads across the county.
I appreciate the dialogue between local and state officials so that we can find new solutions that are based on facts. I'm committed to finding ways to get the DOH the funds it needs and to finding local solutions. If we're going to grow the economy and improve our quality of life, we need to build and maintain our infrastructure.
Many of us have seen the headlines about pill mills flooding small West Virginia towns in southern West Virginia with hundreds of thousands of pain pills. Or heroin overdoses in Huntington.
Now, the prescription opioid and heroin crisis has come to Monongalia County. Babies are being born with physical dependencies and must go through withdrawal at birth. Local police are administering Narcan to overdose victims. It's impacting our schools, our families, and our neighborhoods. While campaigning, I met with many community leaders and voters who were worried that we weren't doing enough locally to fight the opioid epidemic.
Last year, a group of concerned leaders and community members started meeting to educate themselves on this crisis and to develop local solutions. It includes people with expertise on many aspects of the addiction crisis: city and county governments, local and state police departments, the school system, WVU, local health providers, faith leaders, a pharmacist, and others. And it now has a name: DRIVE Mon County. You'll be hearing about DRIVE Mon County over the coming months as it begins its outreach to the community.
Solving the addiction crisis requires many different efforts. We need more beds in in-state treatment facilities so that young people that need help can get treatment immediately without traveling out of state away from their support system. We need information to be more readily available so that addicts and their loved ones can find the help they need. Doctors and pharmacists need to continue taking steps to reduce the number of prescription pain pills that are prescribed. Local police are often on the front line and will continue to play an important role.
DRIVE stands for Dependence Reduction through Intervention, preVention and Enforcement. DRIVE Mon County understands that there's no single solution and that we can't arrest our way out of this problem. It's wonderful to see so many people, with such a wide range of expertise, coming together to solve a pressing problem. This is a model for how our government should work.
I was honored to help launch a new fellowship program to attract and retain talented workers in West Virginia. Six companies, including Downstream Strategies, are hiring Impact West Virginia Fellows to work in Morgantown, Beckley, Charleston, Huntington, and Wheeling.
Each week, fellows will work four days at their host company and volunteer one day for a local nonprofit. The application process started on January 31, and fellows will be announced in June.
Fellowship programs are more and more common across the country, but this is the first in West Virginia. They create a buzz among young people about the benefits of working and living in West Virginia, and they provide an opportunity to highlight innovative companies. I hope that this type of program is replicated and expanded across the state to provide more opportunities for young professionals to stay in West Virginia and help diversify the economy.
West Virginia Public Radio recently published a story on the silver lining of chemical spills: that they lead to stronger protections for drinking water. It recounts what happened in 2014, when a Freedom Industries aboveground storage tank leaked chemicals into the Elk River, an event that contaminated the water supply for about 300,000 West Virginians. The chemical leak not only impacted people's health, it also had a huge economic impact on the region.Read more
Monongalia County generates close to 10,000 tons of solid waste each month. I recently updated the County Commission on a research project I’ve been doing with my colleagues at Downstream Strategies for the Monongalia County Solid Waste Authority. We’ve been investigating options for converting solid waste into energy, which would turn our waste into a resource and create local jobs. The Dominion Post covered my update last week.
Currently, most of the county’s solid waste is trucked to a landfill in the Northern Panhandle. Some is recycled, but recycling is inconvenient for people who live out in the county. The Solid Waste Authority is responsible for thinking strategically about future options for the county’s solid waste. They asked us to look into a waste-to-energy plant, because this type of plant could turn all of the county’s waste into a resource, and not just the waste that’s recycled.
We primarily looked at plants that would convert waste into synthetic gas, or syngas. This gas can then be burned to generate electricity or converted into diesel fuel. The county’s solid waste could be combined with waste tires, which are now being stockpiled in a monofill in Nicholas County. It could also be supplemented with coal.
My team looked at similar plants in the United States and around the world, identified the factors influencing the feasibility of these plants, and compiled information about the end products that could be generated.
We recommended holding off on such a project until the economics turn around. Currently, the price of natural gas, electricity, and diesel fuel is so low that it would be difficult for a waste-to-energy plant to compete.
I applaud the Solid Waste Authority for looking at innovative options for turning the county's solid waste into a resource. Our team is continuing to monitor other similar facilities, and we'll be ready to pursue a facility in Monongalia County should it prove to be feasible in the future.
Our feasibility report can be found here.