American Rescue Plan: Matoaka receiving $80,000 with responsibility questions unanswered

Matoaka is slated to receive $80,000 in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan, but questions remain on who is responsible for those funds as the town began unincorporating some years ago. (Jessica Nuzzo/Bluefield Daily Telegraph)

MATOAKA — Matoaka is slated to receive $80,000 from the American Rescue Plan but the problem is it is no longer a functioning town and who will be in charge of the money is so far an unanswered question.

Details of how much state municipalities will receive from the massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package recently passed was released Monday be Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., with Mercer County getting $11.4 million, Princeton $2.36 million, Bramwell $140,000, Athens $370,000, Oakvale $50,000 and Matoaka $80,000.

Only incorporated municipalities are eligible to receive the funding, which is primarily earmarked for infrastructure (water, sewer and broadband) and how it is spent will be under strict guidelines.

However, Matoaka started the process of dissolving the town about two years ago, but the legal process has not yet been finished, which is why it is receiving the money.

Mercer County Commissioner Bill Archer, who has been involved in helping fix Matoaka’s water and sewer woes for about three years, said Matoaka technically is still a town with a mayor and even town council, but they do not meet or make decisions.

“I expressed those concerns (about the funding) to the PSC (Public Service Commission) in Charleston,” he said, and the process of completing the complete dissolution of the town’s corporation is being sped up and should be complete within a few weeks.

“The town itself as a council ceased to exist more than two years ago,” he said, and the town was put into receivership since revenue was coming in and bills had to be paid. But since the town council served as the members of the Matoaka Sanitary Board they could not dissolve it until the public utilities, the sewage treatment plant, was turned over to another entity through the state PSC.

That is the process that has taken so long to complete and the plant and system will be turned over to the Mercer County Public Service District (PSD).

The town’s water system had already been turned over to West Virginia American Water.

Archer said the county PSD has been functioning as an operator for the sewage treatment plant for about a year with the revenues still going to the town (in receivership).

“The town still receives monies from the video lottery and table games … and tax revenue from AEP,” he said. “It’s a pretty complex situation but hopefully it is nearing its end.”

Archer said he spoke with the state PSC attorney last week and was assured the process was moving as fast as it could to enable the transfer of the sewage treatment plant.

The county PSD has provided funding to make sure residents have crucial water and sewer services, he said, and providing those services remains the top priority.

Two local attorneys, one with the receivership and the other with the PSD, have been working together to iron things out.

“It is a convoluted situation,” Archer said. “I trust the local lawyers. They will do the right thing and find a way to help the people.”

Archer said the county has already invested a “considerable sum” to take care of the town’s previous water issues.

When the $80,000 does arrive, he said thinks the county commission, as an elected body, may be the responsible party for deciding how it is spent to benefit the people of the Matoaka community, but at this point he does not know this for sure.

Fellow Commissioner Greg Puckett agrees.

“I think commissioners will end up making that decision,” he said. “But for now, that is the $80,000 question.”

Bill Winfrey, attorney for the county PSD, said it has been a matter of going through the process of the PSD gaining the go-ahead from the state to take over Matoaka’s sewage treatment plant.

“The state can then accept the charter (of Matoaka),” he said, officially dissolving the town.

Winfrey said since the town was placed in receivership, business had to be conducted in that way, with approval of the circuit court on any expenditures.

That could include the $80,000, but that is not a decision he is involved in.

Winfrey said the PSD has plans to expand sewer service in that area as everyone is on board using the money to help the residents as much as possible.

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