MADISON — “I want to be a part of the solution when we rebound,” said Boone County Commission President Eddie Hendricks. “I was here when it was good and we had a lot of money, now I want to have the opportunity to see this county through the really hard times we’ve fallen on.”

Hendricks will face off in the May Primary Election with fellow Democrats Jacob Messer and Danny Vickers; the winner will compete against Republican Josh Barker in the November General Election.

Hendricks, a retired educator who still can be found teaching on occasion at Van High School, is married to Lisa Lovejoy, also an educator. He has a step-daughter, Breeanne Jarrell, and two grandsons, Cade and Carter Price, who, according to Hendricks, have the full attention of their grandfather.

“I just really enjoy them and I’m healthier than I’ve been in 20 years, so that makes it so much better when you can chase them around to some extent,” he said.

Hendricks, a 1976 graduate of Sherman High School, grew up in Coopertown. He attended college at Glenville State and earned a bachelors degree in physical education/health and safety.

He began his career at Madison Middle School from 1980-1989 and then began a stint at Van High School that lasted throughout his career.

“I’m proud of my longevity and I adapted to the times and remained relevant as a teacher and a coach,” he said. “I became an administrator and we accomplished a lot during that time, both academically and athletically, and I’m proud of all of it.”

He said the relationships were most important.

“If you’ve been around kids — and particularly high school kids — the relationships are priceless and they last a lifetime,” he said.

“I’m blessed to remember kids and sometimes they are shocked by that, but I take pride in that. For years I would council juniors and seniors about the college process and what to do after school and you were part of the scholarship process with the military and trade school as options. The coal mines were there and they could go to work. It the generation before me, kids quit high school and went to work in the coal mines. So, throughout my teaching career, kids had options. Things have changed, the military wants your honor students and it isn’t like it was years ago where they’d talk to lots of kids. The coal mines aren’t really an option. What is killing us now is kids will go to college, get a degree and have to leave the county or even the state to find work. Moving forward, we can’t look to coal ever again. If it comes back, we have to diversify and coal has to be gravy.”

Hendricks spoke about the Rock Creek Development Park project, which rests on the former Hobet mining site. The commission president is the chairman of the Boone County Economic Development Corporation and said manufacturing jobs are what is needed, not low-paying warehouse positions.

“We are losing our best kids and we need for them to stay here and work here,” he said.

“We don’t have a decade to wait on this project to develop. We don’t have a choice but to make this happen. We have to keep pursuing this until it happens. I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight. The focus has changed two or three times. From the folks who live up in the head of some hollow to our business owners, we have to talk to our delegates and senators to support this project and push it forward. We have to come together on this and I feel passionately about that.”

Hendricks added, “The misconception is that this is a Boone County project; it is a regional project that benefits multiple counties.”

Hendricks said one of the things he’s proud of is that approximately 98% of Boone County now has clean drinking water. Coal Valley News archives suggest that in 1988, that number was closer to 65%.

“With the completion of the Morrisvale water project, we may lead the state in the percentage of people with public water,” he said.

“We’ve come a long way in the sewer situation. We’re seeing a much more stable situation with the water situation in Whitesville. The decisions we’ve made haven’t been in haste. I feel like that, with the four guys I’ve served with, that we’ve taken information and made the best decisions we could.”

West Virginia American Water announced on Aug. 9, 2019, that it had completed its acquisition of the Boone-Raleigh Public Service District (PSD) water distribution system, which serves approximately 470 customers along Rt. 3 in Boone and Raleigh counties, including the towns of Sylvester and Whitesville.

Hendricks said he looks for the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System access to be restored on the Little Coal River area of the county after land access-related red tape can be hurdled and then a supposed trail head access point at Indian Creek in Peytona.

He feels that these developments, along with tourism, are elements of a larger picture that will help push the county forward.

Hendricks said he believes the county should be able to collect a special tax from land companies, most of which are located outside West Virginia and purchase property in the county simply for the tax credit, leaving the structure to crumble and become a dilapidated eyesore and safety hazard for the communities.

“This has gotten out of hand,” he said. “They are buying us up lock, stock and barrel and it is a free revenue stream for them. We aren’t getting anything out of this. There isn’t enough accountability with those people, in my opinion. How are they helping us?”

Hendricks’ first term began in 2008 and he said that the responsibility of the seat has grown since then.

“It was a part-time job and you showed up for three meetings a month and it was pretty simple,” he said. “It has progressed into a full-time job. It isn’t the same job at all.”

Hendricks hasn’t taught school since September and said he appreciates Commissioners Craig Bratcher and Brett Kuhn, as they are active educators. If there is an opportunity to secure any funding at all for Boone County by attending a conference or a meeting, he said he wants the county to be represented and as the retired teacher of the trio, he has taken on that role.

“As the senior statesman, I feel a responsibility to do these things and help them out because of their schedules,” he said. “Both of those men are doing tremendous jobs and I’m proud of what they have done as commissioners and educators.”

Hendricks noted that over the last decade, the county budget has decreased from $20 million to $5 million, and coal severance revenue has dropped from $5.7 million to $700,000.

“We are trying to maintain what our coal miners gave us,” he said. “Moving forward, we have to diversify. We have to come up with revenue streams that aren’t coal-related. We have to quit playing the blame game and get everyone involved and make sure our opinions are voiced and we have to develop the Hatfield-McCoy trail and we have to create jobs at the Rock Creek Development Park.”

Hendricks added that, in hindsight, he wouldn’t do anything differently.

“There’s not a lot and we’ve accomplished most of the things we set out to do,” he said. “I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t develop Rock Creek. It’s not by our own doing that we are where we are now.”

Hendricks noted that the series of stories published by the Coal Valley News titled, “What We Make” that compared salaries in Boone County to others of similar size and population are a reflection of Boone County when it was flourishing.

“I don’t think you can make that comparison,” he said. “Some of those salaries were set when the county was wealthy and we rewarded good employees and that is where the contrast comes in now, we aren’t flourishing.”

Hendricks used that same analogy when questioned about how the county can carry both an administrator and assistant administrator at annual salaries of $56,800 and $63,000 respectively while, according to westvirginia-demographics.com, Boone County’s population is 23,236; compare that to Jackson (29,123), Mason (27,000) and neighboring Logan (34,428) — all counties of similar size that do not employ an assistant administrator.

Hendricks said that, with the retirement of an employee on the horizon, those positions will be evaluated.

Hendricks confirmed that another cut would likely be imminent, but said that pushing it past the primary election in May isn’t an initiative discussed in county government circles.

“No, that has never been a topic of conversation and it (primary) won’t affect it at all,” he said. “My hope is that we’ll see the results of what we’ve already done (cuts) over the next three or four months. We are still trying to unload properties, which hasn’t been as easy to do as we initially thought. As far as the next cut, we do the budget in March and we’ll see where we stand.”

There have been negotiations with Boone County Schools regarding Lick Creek Park, which is the home field for the Scott High Softball team and WVSSAC games.

According to Hendricks, both a private individual and the Town of Danville have shown interest and those discussions will continue.

“Speak for myself, I want to sell it,” Hendricks added. “We’ve dropped from 19 maintenance guys down to seven. We can’t keep it up anymore. It has to go.”

Hendricks was asked whether parks and recreation would survive and after a long pause he responded, “I say yes, but when we made those cuts it is hard and you know everyone in this county. It is especially hard to lay off good workers.”

The partially grant-funded recycling department has lost between $78,000 and $86,000 annually between fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Total wages, including insurance and retirement along with utilities and supplies, totaled $104,312.68 for two employees in 2017-18. Fuel, tires and related expenditures totaled $8,211.31. With a total revenue of $25,537.91, this alone shows a $86,986.08 loss.

Comparatively, in 2016 the department showed only $15,521.79 in revenue — which covers less than half of one employee’s salary. Revenue for 2017 was even less with the department showing a revenue for the entire year of $11,048.67.

Two-year grants provided $66,592.98 in funding in 2017-18, leaving the county to pick up the tab for the remaining losses in those years. The grants are calendar in nature, not fiscal, so they run January through December of each calendar year.

“Recycling is something we continue to look into,” he said. “It is something we have to consider (cutting). I really like having a recycling department for our citizens but this is where we are.”

Hendricks said the days of paying outside consultants to oversee and assist with the budget are over.

In May of 2019, the CVN revealed that Boone County had paid $136,800 in consulting fees between July of 1997 and June of 2016.

The peak of the professional relationship between the county and consultant Dennis Sizemore came in 2012, when he was paid a total of $7,200 through 12 separate payments of $600 between January and December of that calendar year, with two invoices paid in the month of October.

“Back in those days we were dealing with a lot more money,” Hendricks said. “We had a budget of $20 million 12 or 13 years ago. It wasn’t easy for folks in the office to do because they didn’t have degrees in that stuff. I go through the exit audits with the auditor and it is very complicated. We realized five or six years ago that we didn’t need that anymore. He (Sizemore) had trained our staff to the point that we could do it. After we stopped paying him full-time we paid him to oversee what we were doing for a few years.”

Hendricks added, “That guy was already there when I got there and he stayed on for several years after and at first I saw the value (in his help) and as the money dwindled we knew we could do it without him. We probably could have gotten rid of him several years before that.”

Hendricks said Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph, who is running for reelection, has been invaluable to county government.

“He’s been real important,” he said. We don’t talk to newspapers or TV normally unless we talk to him first. He’s easy to talk to and real sharp. He does a tremendous job. Through the cuts he was an important element of going through the budget.”

Hendricks said the current role of county government is assessing what are absolute needs.

“What do we absolutely need and we’ve got to bring that out of this,” he said. “We have to get rid of what isn’t essential for the county and then budget for those things that we must have.”

The Boone County Commission recently caught up on their quarterly payments with Boone County Day Report and are also current on the monthly jail bill, something Hendricks said he is in support of, providing the funds are available.

In summary, Hendricks feels that he has some unfinished business as a county commissioner and he wants to see it through.

“Coal miners, not coal companies, have given us all that we have today,” he said.

“It burns me that at the state level, there isn’t more help for our coal mining communities that carried this state for decades. Moving forward, I hope we aren’t talking about coal and that we are talking about manufacturing jobs up on the (Rock Creek Development Park). We have to make this happen and we have to take care of what we have and make some tough decisions along the way. Boone County is my home and I want my grandkids and yours to be able to make it their home, too.”

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.