Mingo Mayor’s Expectations After Coalfield Communities Grant Bill Passes
House Bill 4479 established the Coalfield Communities Grant Facilitation Commission. Its purpose is to help struggling coal communities access federal dollars.
Jessica Lilly spoke with Gilbert Mayor Jennifer Miller to get reaction from the coalfields.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Lilly: Now that the bill has passed, what are your expectations?
Miller: I was just so thankful to see such legislation because it hits the nail on the head of the two areas that make it difficult for all these monies that are available to be actually utilized by small communities, both providing a matching portion for the grants and also for grant training, or grant writing assistance.
Lilly: Walk us through a typical day in the life of Jennifer Miller or the mayor of Gilbert. What’s it like?
Miller: All of our government positions here, council folks and recorder also, are non-compensated positions. We really have a lot of folks who do this just because that's where their heart is. Here out of the office, that staff of two people takes care of all of the business work for the police department and court, the fire department, the water department, the sewage department, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is also run through the town, as well as the town business itself. Our town has a census of less than 400 people. Although that is the town itself. We have a lot of areas around that also depend upon Gilbert to come to do their business or their water. But there's a wide variety of areas that also kind of consider Gilbert to be their community, although they're not annexed as part of our town.
Lilly: Throughout these years, when they started talking about these programs, did you ever just sort of get frustrated?
Miller: Yes. So much coal money has poured out of here and roads have potholes because of the
coal trucks. And I'm not complaining, I'm glad the coal trucks are rolling. Because again, it's providing income for families out there. But yes, it's very disappointing. Even when you look not only on the state level, but within the county level too. And I mean nothing against any of our county governments at all. They've got to look where the population center is when they provide plans and it's surely not here. So it's hard for us to have a voice. We do have a lot of tourists here due to Hatfield and McCoy trails, the number one thing I hear is how helpful the people in the community are. So our asset is our people. It is very frustrating when we know of all the money that's poured out of these coal fields. And I've seen it through people in my family through other families, the coal miners and what they go through and that's not an easy job. It's a very admirable job and honorable job. And it certainly isn't easy. And to know that so much of that funding, but those monies left here and went somewhere else and then when the funds come back into rejuvenate it goes to folks who already are rejuvenated. We do need to look at what's available here.
Lilly: Explain the frustration as the programs come back and not even having the resources to get the resources that you need.
Miller: We see all this funding coming down from nationally-wise, and state-wise, and then it's so overwhelming here as far as the amount of staff we have to do just daily operations, much less you think of putting more on your plate. It’s very frustrating. It's frustrating knowing that we don't have the matching funds to match whatever grants are available. So you say on the outside picture all this money is coming to southern West Virginia coalfields. Does it actually reach us? How do we get it to actually reach us? How do we make that happen? So it's not just something on paper that looks nice, but the people the community never get to see anything from so it's very frustrating.
Lilly: Are you a little skeptical of this being yet another gatekeeper and whoever are the grant writers pretty much get to pick and choose where it goes yet again?
Miller: I am very concerned about that. But you know what? You gotta have hope. You beat your head against the wall and you hope that something comes through and it does and for whatever reason, and you don't give up. And I hope and pray that this time it is something that actually gets to where it's supposed to go and reaches the target and people. The targeted people are the people, not the people who already have this or that. The targeted people are the people who need the help, who don't have and who need the help, and that's who it needs to reach.