$30,000, with a catch: Grafton bonus comes with challenge to community

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1_28_15 Manos Theater Grafton

Photo courtesy Turn This Town Around Grafton

They say that positive energy is infectious. On Tuesday night, the people of Grafton received undeniable proof.

As we celebrated their first year of involvement in the Turn This Town Around program at a special gathering in Grafton on Tuesday night, the great spirit of the occasion received the perfect accompaniment with the announcement that the City of Grafton and Taylor County would support this remarkable community effort with an additional $30,000 toward local projects.

Each municipality will contribute $15,000, to support at least 15 new community initiatives, continuing the model created by Turn This Town Around – small and affordable local projects, imagined, planned and executed by the locals themselves. During Year 1 of Grafton’s Turn This Town Around work, this included First Friday local business events, downtown wayfinding signage, the expansion of the Grafton Farmers Market, and the restoration of the much-loved Manos Theatre (above).

“We could all take what our yearnings were for the town and turn them into action,” said community leader Tom Hart. “We may not have all the money in the world, but when you have talent like the people we have here, anything is possible.”

“This is a wonderful investment in the city and the people of Grafton,” said the Hub’s Director of Community Strategies Amanda Yager of the $30,000 set aside. “It’s also a terrific example of something we always tell community members when we begin the process – ‘don’t get hung up on the money thing.’ Just start with conversation, and organizing, and prioritizing. Funding will only come when there are clear community priorities and a visible way forward.”

But there is a catch. The citizens will only receive the additional $30,000 if they can provide a partial match of their own – $15,000. So the gauntlet has been thrown down.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Hub staff provided some guidance about strategies for successful fundraising, and the importance of looking to successful local examples for inspiration and education about what can work. For example, in the southern part of the state the community of Alderson just launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo.com, with the goal of raising $30,400 to start a grocery store featuring local fresh produce.

Interested in learning more about how crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter work? There are clear step-by-step instructions on each site. We recommend you begin by looking through the project examples for lessons on what other people have done in communities like yours!

Vendor Permitting Bill Introduced – What Does This Mean for Farmers Markets?

1_27_15 Vendor Permitting Bill

The WV Farmers Market Association is supporting a bill that would clarify permitting for farmers market vendors. This bill, SB 304, would create a single statewide permit for vendors, eliminating the current inconsistent permitting practices between counties.If you have an opinion about farmers markets and vendor regulations, consider contacting the Agriculture Chairmen, Senator Daniel Hall (304-357-7807 or daniel.hall@wvsenate.gov), and Delegate Allen Evans (304-340-3399 or allen.evans@wvhouse.gov) to voice your opinion and to ask whether they plan to move the bill forward.

For more information on this and other farmers market policy issue, contact Kelly Crane at coordinator@wvfarmers.org


Affordable Housing Trust Fund Faces Elimination

1_27_15 Affordable HousingA bill is expected to be introduced to the West Virginia Legislature this week to eliminate the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF).

The bill would consolidate the AHTF into the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, and comes at the request of the Governor’s Office which is seeking to identify and consolidate repetitive programs.

Nonprofit and affordable housing groups, including CommunityWorks, the Housing Policy Coalition, and the Abandoned Properties Coalition are voicing their opposition to the elimination of the AHTF, and are working with majority and minority leaders to preserve the program. They have stated that they consider the AHTF to have an important separate function from the Housing Development Fund. Advocates for the AHTF tout its flexibility, responsiveness and creativity in helping nonprofit and affordable housing groups address housing challenges.

Over the past 15 years, the AHTF has become one of the only funding sources in the state available to address abandoned and dilapidated properties. Its flexible, accessible grant program serves as a primary funding mechanism to build local capacity to mitigate and redevelop dilapidated properties. It is a critical resource for community development in West Virginia.

The Abandoned Properties Coalition has identified abandoned and dilapidated properties as one of the most consistent community development hurdles in the state. Community efforts to mitigate dilapidated properties are constantly hampered by lack of access to funding and technical assistance. Groups supporting the AHTF have stated that eliminating the fund would negatively impact access to funding for communities seeking to address dilapidated properties.

The AHTF operates a program that provides grants and low-interest, easily accessible loans to nonprofits and affordable housing developers for pre-development costs, demolition or deconstruction to rehabilitate a lot for housing construction, and technical assistance including market studies, architectural plans and structural evaluations.

If you have an opinion about whether the Affordable Housing Trust Fund should be eliminated or preserved, consider contacting your legislators and the offices of the House Speaker, Senate President and House and Senate Minority leaders. Contact information for all legislators is available on the Legislature’s website.


5 Tips on How to Stay Tuned In to the Legislature

There are some handy tips and tricks you can use to keep track of the workings of the state legislature from your own home or office. We’ll be highlighting the best tricks over the next couple weeks in the Legislative Hubbub. Here’s a few:

1. The first and best resource to keep up to date on legislative activity is the State Legislature’s website, www.legis.state.wv.us

West Virginia has an excellent legislative website, and the technology on the site is improving dramatically each year. On the website you can:

2. Listen in to floor sessions and committee meetings. Streaming audio is available for all committee meetings and floor sessions on the Legislature Live website. You can also now watch the Senate and House floor sessions each day at (usually) 11am. Here’s the website for the House, and here for the Senate.

3. Want to know what committee meetings are scheduled for this week? The House lists their committee schedule for much of the week each Monday. The Senate lists its schedule every couple of days on the Bulletin Board website.

4. The Bulletin Board is a great resource to keep track of bills that are on the agenda to be introduced each day. If you’re looking to go deeper into finding a bill and following its movement, the Bill Status site is a wealth of information.

5. Want the quick and easy to read summary of what happened each day and what’s on the schedule for tomorrow? Read the Today in the Legislature blog. This short daily blog details which bills are passed each day, major bills that are introduced, and lists upcoming committee schedules. It also has great candid shots from each day!


Alternative Energy Bill Dominates West Virginia Legislature

1_27_15 Alternative Energy Bill

Delegates Mike Caputo (Marion Co.), Sean Hornbuckle (Cabell Co.) and Clif Moore (McDowell Co.) talk during the House floor session on Wednesday, January 21st. Photo Credit: Perry Bennett; WV Legislative Photography.

During the second week of the legislative session, the House of Delegates held its first public hearing on a bill, relating to lawsuits and workers compensation. But the major hubbub of the week continued to be the final vote to repeal the Alternative Energy Portfolio Act.

Wrap Up of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Repeal

Acting quickly, the Senate and House passed bills (SB 1 and HB 2001) to repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act on Wednesday and Thursday. These were the first bills introduced and the first bills passed during this legislative session.

Both bills passed overwhelmingly, with 33 votes in favor on the Senate side (one senator was absent) and 95-4 in the House. The only legislators voting against the bill were Delegates Barbara Fleischaeur (Monongalia Co.), Nancy Guthrie (Kanawha Co.), Mike Pushkin (Kanawha Co.) and Stephen Skinner (Jefferson Co.).

Concern over the repeal’s impact on net metering was addressed through the amendment of the Senate bill to preserve net metering, and by the introduction and passage of a house bill on net metering, HB 2201.

There was much discussion this week over what impact repealing the Portfolio Act would have – or fail to have – and what relationship the bill’s passage had to politics and campaign promises. One major lesson that can be learned from the hubbub around these bills is that legislation often acts fast. When there is support and momentum behind a bill from the majority party, it can pass at lightening speed.

Public Hearing on HB 2011: 

Tommy Davis_workers comp

Photo of Tommy Davis, coal miner, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Photo credit: Bob Wojcieszak/Daily Mail

The House Judiciary Committee held the first public hearing of this session on HB 2011, a bill to make it more difficult for workers to sue employers if they are injured on the job and receive Workers Compensation benefits for that injury. The bill looked at the definition of deliberate intent, clarifying and strengthening it according to the bill sponsors.

A number of workers and family members of deceased workers spoke before the Committee last Wednesday afternoon in opposition to the bill. Opponents of the bill stated that lawsuits are critical to financial recovery from injuries caused by acts of an employer (including unsafe working conditions), and that the Workers Compensation system does not provide adequate money to make an injured worker, or his/her surviving family, whole.

Industry supporters, including representatives from the WV Business and Industry Council, spoke in support of the bill, saying that the current standard to bring a lawsuit against an employer for deliberate intent is too broad.

The hearing caused such a hubbub over the bill that it was taken off the Committee agenda by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott. Stakeholder meetings are underway to see if an agreement on the bill can be reached.

The Power of Local – Whitesville Rises to Challenge of Regeneration

image3Wondering whether Whitesville is excited about being selected as the latest Turn The Town Around community? Just drive up the main street.

“Welcome Turn This Town Around! Excited to learn, ready to turn!” reads the sign outside the brand new local clothing boutique, Farmer’s Daughters.

“Let’s all help Turn This Town Around,” said the sign outside John Vealey’s furniture store, Vealey Furniture (below, left). “Welcome TTTA! We need your help!”

As the Hub team visited this small community in Boone County Tuesday night for the first Whitesville Turn This Town Around meeting, business owners stopped us on the sidewalk to say welcome. With beaming smiles and energetic handshakes they told us how grateful they were for the opportunity, and how excited to imagine and work toward a new future their community.

John VealeyThe passion and energy bursting out of the main street of Whitesville is palatable, and made it clear to us that this community is ready to make the investments in itself that Turn This Town Around is all about.

At a meeting of community leaders in the Salamy Memorial Building that evening what we heard was a story that many West Virginians can relate to about the places they grew up, the places they love.

“I remember a time when you didn’t have to leave the town of Whitesville to shop,” said Tammy Gordon. “I miss those days. I want to see stuff back in Whitesville. And I think we can do it. I think we have the people to do it.”

Tammy’s entrepreneurial spirit is no bluff. Tammy and her sister, Jenny Elswick, just opened a new commercial enterprise on the main street, Farmer’s Daughters, a boutique and gift store. In the face of a struggling economy and shrinking local population, they sold out their entire first shipment of stock in a few days. These sisters have every reason to believe there is a spark in Whitesville ready to catch alight.

“I’ve never worked on anything like this before, but I’m ready,” Tammy said.

Until you’ve seen it in action, it is impossible to fully appreciate the sense of camaraderie that exists between Whitesville’s remaining citizens.

“We love each other,” said long time Mayor Fred Harless. “We’re there for each other. I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm in the community for several years.”

“One thing that hasn’t gone away is the sense of community you get here,” said Hollie Smarr, a local business owner and one of the key organizers of Whitesville’s Turn This Town Around effort.

Her sentiments were echoed by Adam Pauley. Though just in his mid-20s, Adam has emerged as a galvanizing force in the community, using a combination of social media and organizing savvy, local knowledge and sheer determination to rally a diverse group of citizens behind a common cause.

“We are all stakeholders because we all live here,” he said. At Tuesday night’s meeting it was clear that everyone in the room had bought in to Adam’s vision; that whether you are a business person or a retiree, looking for work or looking for quality of life, it is only the people of Whitesville that can drive the change that will benefit the community in the long run.

So, what’s next? Adam, Holly and the leaders of Whitesville have already started a loud and ambitious campaign to get 132 people to show up at the first Whitesville all-community Turn This Town Around meeting on Tuesday, March 17. (Why 132? Because it’s one more than Grafton got at its first community meeting! Talk about competitive spirit!)

Out of a population of just 500 or so, that will be an impressive effort.

We are all excited to see what Whitesville will do next. You can keep an eye on this little-town-that-could, and get involved, through their facebook page: www.facebook.com/tttawhitesville

TTTA grant recipients announced

Home-TTTAIn June, we announced that the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation would be awarding $75,000 each to Grafton and Matewan to projects proposed by teams in each community. The process was a competitive one where teams of at least three people submitted proposals with action plans for projects to benefit their communities.

We are excited to announce the grant recipients in each town. The projects are divided into Mini Grants ($2,500 max.) and Pre-Development Projects.Read More

10 foods at your farmers market in August and new ways to eat them

peachesThis week is National Farmers Market Week. Seeing all of the fresh produce at the local farmers market always inspires me to try to adapt my cuisine to seasonal cooking.Towards the end of the summer, the berries and lighter vegetables are waning, and some of the heavier fall foods are starting to make an appearance.

Here are 10 ways to celebrate the August season with seasonal foods.

1. Brussels Sprouts – My sister makes these savory Mustard Bacon Brussels Sprouts at family celebrations, and they are always a hit.Read More

Seven things WV legislators say you need to know to make your idea state policy

Home-PolicyWorkshopsOn Tuesday, July 22, about 125 West Virginians gathered in Clarksburg at the Our Children Our Future Northern Regional Policy Workshop to learn about state policy advocacy and get advice on how to advance their ideas to help end child poverty.

Tim Miley (D – Harrison), Speaker of the House; Jeff Kessler (D – Marshall), Senate President; Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia); and Delegates Barbara Fleischauer (D – Monongalia) and Linda Longstreth (D – Marion) came out to meet the community representatives and offer advice and support during a lunchtime panel.  When asked what tips they would give to the policy advocates in the room, the legislators had several pieces of advice.Read More