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County puts up $100,000 for sobering center, expresses concern over SB 12

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Commission on Wednesday committed $100,000 to get the Mountaineer Regional Sobering Center off the ground.

The short-term care facility will be an alternative to emergency rooms for individuals suffering the acute effects of alcohol, and potentially drug, intoxication.

The project is part of the transformation of an old Scott Avenue hotel property being re-purposed into a hub for community resources, thanks in no small part to $3.5 million in CARES Act funding and the efforts of numerous community partners.

The city of Morgantown has taken the lead on the project and has committed $100,000 to the effort. The city asked the county and WVU to each put in $50,000 to help get the center up and running.  

“We discussed that we’re stepping up more than they asked because the seed money, I think, is important to get it started right,” Commissioner Jeff Arnett said.  “You don’t want them scraping just to get it open. So I think us coming in strong with $100,000 is a great way to help that program get on its feet.”

Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli has estimated a first-year budget of about $370,000. Though ambitious, Muzzarelli has said the aim is to have an executive director on board by July and the facility open this fall.

“I believe we should step up and match the city’s participation, and I would like to encourage the university to match their participation level,” Commission President Sean Sikora said. “I hope WVU would also step up so we can guarantee at least a certain level of revenue to get the program started and we can go from there.” 

Commissioner Tom Bloom credited the city and Muzzarelli in particular for driving the project forward.

Bloom said the county’s funding is a one-year commitment to be reviewed annually.

In other county news, the commission went after SB 12 — a state bill to give county commissions veto power over local health boards.

The bill recently passed the Senate 21-13, with one Republican crossing over. All local senators voted with their party as SB 12 now moves to the House.

“I want to publicly state that I’m very concerned about this. I know we as a county commission are very concerned about this. I really believe this is a huge mistake,” Bloom said.  “I believe it politicizes that situation and I really hope that somehow the House can defeat it.”

Proponents of the bill say the purpose is to ensure rules are reviewed by elected representatives and not just un-elected appointees.

Sikora said it appears as if the bill is an attempt at a work-around for potentially contentious public health decisions, like smoking bans.

He said the Monongalia County Commission has been against the bill since it was introduced, adding “I’m not sure of the purpose.”

“I think it’s totally unnecessary. In this county, if it passes, we’ll get by because we have that relationship with our health department, but it could be very dangerous in other counties,” Sikora said.

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