Greenbrier County Commission remembers Lt. Charles Smith, recognizes Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month

By Matthew Young, RealWV

LEWISBURG, W.Va. – A proclamation establishing the county’s recognition of Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, a presentation of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) annual report, and discussion of the Meadow River Trail were on the agenda during the Greenbrier County Commission’s meeting on Tuesday. 

Before reading the proclamation, Commission President Tammy Tincher gave an emotional explanation as to its significance, saying, “Many of us do not want to recognize that suicide is something that is present in today’s community – in our county, and our state, and our world.”

“This past year, it affected every one of us in county government, whether we wanted to acknowledge it or not,” Tincher added. “It is not something to be embarrassed about, and it is not something that we do not want to talk about. It has to be recognized.”

The proclamation reads:

Whereas, September is known globally as Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. The goal is to start the conversation about mental health, and the impact of suicide, to help destigmatize the conversation, and help connect people with the appropriate support and services.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death among adults, and the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 in the United States. More than 48,000 people die by suicide across the United States every year, with an average of 132 suicides completed daily. Each and every suicide directly impacts a minimum of 100 additional people, including family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community members. 

Whereas Charles Randall Smith, or “Smitty,” a veteran and 18-year member of the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department where he served as lieutenant, lost his mental health battle to suicide on Feb. 1, 2023. 

The Greenbrier County Commission publicly places its full support behind those who work in the fields of mental health, law enforcement, and all first responder agencies. Our local mental health experts serve on the front lines of a war that many still refuse to discuss. That stigma regarding suicide and mental health issues is far too prevalent.

Therefore, be it resolved that we, the Greenbrier County Commissioners, do hereby proclaim September 2023 as National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month in Greenbrier County, and encourage all residents to take the time to understand the importance of mental health education, and recognize that taking care of ourselves and others includes taking care of our mental health.

Charles Randall “Smitty” Smith. April 6, 1979 – February 1, 2023.

Presenting the annual report on behalf of the CVB was President and CEO Kara Dense, who began with a staffing overview.

“We have 11 [on] staff – six full time and five part time,” Dense said. “We have 20 board members now. We increased our board a little bit, to bring folks on and be involved to help us really carry on our mission.”

Dense noted that the mission of the CVB is to “impact the area’s economy by marketing it as a premiere tourism destination.”

“In 2021, the Legislature passed SB 488, which gives oversight to CVBs because there were so many in the state,” Dense explained. “I think there were 75, and we only have 55 counties. We worked with the Legislature to try to put something in place to keep these rogue people from spending hotel/motel (tax) money in ways that it wasn’t meant to be spent.”

According to Dense, W.Va. Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby opted to utilize a “new company” to evaluate the economic impact of tourism. While county-specific data has not yet been gathered for the calendar year 2022, Dense noted, state-level data is available.

“In 2022, there was $5.3 billion in direct spending in West Virginia,” Dense said. “That’s 17% higher than in 2019, which was our last normal year before the pandemic.”

Dense further explained that tourism generates $887 million in tax revenue for the state, adding, “That saves each household in West Virginia about $715 in taxes that would come out of their pockets if it weren’t for visitors coming to our state.”

Matt Ford of the Greenbrier Environmental Group was next to address the commission. Ford discussed several aspects of the Meadow River Trail project, beginning with the cost estimate of debris removal from the Laurel Creek Bridge.

“We’ve done this before,” Ford said. “There’s a bridge on the trail that’s in phase three, and items tend to accumulate […]. Before we can get that bridge completed, we’d like to have that debris removed.” 

Ford advised that the estimate for debris removal was $1,100, which the commission unanimously approved. Ford next addressed the awarding of the mowing contract to Rainelle-based Willis Weed Whackers.

“Ongoing maintenance is obviously something we also need to look at ahead of the trail opening up in October,” Ford explained. “We wanted to get the grass mowed.”

The bid for mowing and trimming from Willis Weed Whackers was approximately $7,000, which the commission unanimously approved. 

Next, Ford advised that phase one – an eight mile section of the trail –  is scheduled to open in October.

“As part of being a good neighbor, we want to notify the property owners adjacent to the trail corridor that we’re going to be opening,” Ford said, adding that a letter had been prepared, and was awaiting the commission’s approval – which was unanimously granted. 

A ribbon cutting ceremony for phase one of the Meadow River Trail is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12, with the trail set to open to the public on Friday, Oct. 13. The trail is exclusively for non-motorized recreational use.

In other business, the commission approved a time-extension request for the Greenbrier County Quinwood Area Broadband Project, as well as an agreement to engage Project Management Consultant Services for phases two and three of the courthouse renovation project. In their final action of the day, the commission considered shift-differential pay for employees of the Greenbrier County 911 Center. The matter will be further evaluated, and revisited at a future meeting.

The next scheduled meeting of the Greenbrier County Commission is Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 10 a.m.

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