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Preston Commission candidates meet with The Dominion Post Editorial Board

MORGANTOWN — The Dominion Post Editorial Board met recently with the two candidates for a seat on the Preston County Commission.

Incumbent Don Smith, a Republican, is seeking re-election. Independent Lynn Housner is a first-time candidate. The Editorial Board was Editor Pam Queen, Opinion Editor Jessica Nelson and Assistant to the Publisher Adam Raese.

Smith has been on the commission since 2015 and said he has been very active in all the organizations he serves with.

“I treat my role as a county commissioner as my full-time job and take it very seriously. I’m very involved with the county budget. I’m continuously looking for ways to save the taxpayers money,” Smith said.

That includes working with state representatives, on the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau to increase tourism locally, helping establish the Mountaineer Trail Network, helping with Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission (PCPaRC) grant applications, writing letters of support for Friends of the Cheat and the commission’s work to fund drug education in chools.

Housner is an associate dean and professor emeritus at West Virginia University who retired after a life-altering illness put him into a wheelchair for life.

He “was down but not out” and became president of PCPaRC, writing grants and developing an economic plan that he recently shared with the WVU Hospitality and Tourism in hopes of developing a potential partnership.

He also sees possibly working with WVU on potential geothermal energy in Preston County and harvesting rare earth metals from acid mine drainage (AMD). His work ethic and persistence will be a valuable asset, he said.

Budgets and salaries

Queen asked the candidates how to balance Preston’s declining budget.

Housner said we need to look at everything the county does and find where efforts are duplicated or cuts could be made. “I think we need to do an audit of what we do,” Housner said.

When allocations are made they should be based on need, he added, and that agencies requesting funds are bringing a match of money or in-kind.

Smith said this has already been done as budgets have been declining. He has a reputation as being frugal. “And that’s fine, because I’m looking out for the taxpayers’ money.”

Savings have been made, such as by leasing vehicles instead of buying them and working with office holders to decrease their expenses. “I have went through the budget meticulously, line by line, for each of the offices,” Smith said and he’ll continue that.

Will there be raises for county workers in future?

Smith said yes. “We want to be able to keep our quality workers, and the only way to do that is to compensate them adequately,” Smith said, and salaries are the largest part of the budget.

Housner said raises would be a priority. “Here again I would do a complete audit of the county and see where we’re spending money and could reallocate money to the salaries.”


Commissioners get complaints every day about roads, the board noted. Nelson asked the candidates what they would do to get the roads fixed?

Housner said he doesn’t endorse the strategy of the Division of Highways (DOH) giving asphalt to towns to do road work. “I would work diligently with the Division of Highways to try and get the relationship between our county commission and the Division of Highways on the same page,” he said.

He also would talk with the asphalt and roads program at WVU about better, longer lasting products.

Smith said all commissioners have been reaching out to the DOH and Department of Transportation.

“I want to continue to push and work with all our delegates to push for the proper funding mechanism for this,” Smith said. “I think that’s going to be the key to all this.”

The North Central Roads Caucus was a great step, he said, and the commission gets at least quarterly updates from the DOH but more needs done.

Clean water

The board asked what measures the candidates would take to address AMD and clean water for all Prestonians?

Smith said the county has to continue applying for annual funding for remediation of AMD. He mentioned a WVU program to extract rare earth metals from AMD.

“I think that if we can involve the Department of Energy … I think if we just think outside the box a little bit and create the settling ponds that will contain that acid mine runoff,” it will solve two problems, Smith said.

With this AMD would be handled — an environmental issue — and there is an economic impact in private industry handling the minerals and having clean drinking water.

Housner agreed with Smith’s ideas and assessment. Preston needs to be as clean as possible, he said.

“We just need to be very diligent and work hard to help WVU get the funding to clean up the mines and extract those rare metals,” Housner said.

Asked if they thought Lexington Coal should pay the water bills for five households that lost their well water because of its alleged actions, both men said whoever damaged the water should pay for taking care of it.

Black Lives Matter

The candidates were also in agreement about the Black Lives Matter march held Sept. 12 in Kingwood. Though neither was there, they support Americans’ right to peaceful protests.

“In terms of Black Lives Matter, they do matter, all lives matter,” Housner said. “We need to balance racial justice and ethnic justice and equality in all the areas.”

Anything that results in looting and damaging businesses is unacceptable though, he said.

Smith said his God says all lives matter. “The Constitution is very specific about the right to peacefully assemble.” he said. “I raised my hand when I was 17 years old and joined the Army and swore to protect the Constitution, and as far as I’m concerned they have every right to assemble and speak their piece peacefully.”

Dilapidated structures

Smith said the commission has been working, him through the solid waste authority board, to help towns write grants to tear down these structures. Commissioner Dave Price is working on it through the Cleanup Committee, and they are talking with state delegates about getting funds for cleanup.

Housner is a member of the Kingwood Blueprint Communities team, which is also addressing structures and revitalizing the community. He hopes other towns are able to follow similar programs.