The Lewis County Commission voted 2-0 on Monday to obtain representation to pursue a potential lawsuit against prescription drug manufacturers and distributors for their role in the opioid addiction epidemic plaguing the county. Commission President Pat Boyle was absent.
County Commissioner Agnes Queen noted that the commission had considered three different law firms in executive sessions over past months.
The Commission ultimately opted to obtain the representation of Fitzsimmons Law Firm located in Wheeling on a contingency basis.
“It’s important to note that this will be done on a contingency basis. So the county pays nothing unless restitution is awarded in the case,” County Administrator Cindy Whetsell explained.
Should the potential lawsuit move forward, Lewis County will join the growing ranks of states, cities, and counties nationwide moving forward with similar legal actions.
According the Washington Post, West Virginia, which has the highest drug overdose rate in the nation, has had several counties file suit against some of the largest drug distribution companies in the country.
Commission also approved an increase to the Excise Tax on the Privilege of Transferring Property in Lewis County after an unattended public comment phase earlier in the meeting. Queen explained that during the comment phase the increase applies only when property is sold, and it is not an increase on the yearly property tax.
The rate will be increased 55 cents from $1.10 per $500 of value to $1.65 per $500 of value. Queen stated that this increase would add an estimated $40,000 to the county fund.
In other news, the United States Department of the Interior distributed $54,191 to the county through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.
The payment is a compensation to local eligible jurisdictions for loss of revenue, due to tax-exempt Federal lands administered by agencies with the Department on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This year’s payment marks an increase from the 2016 fiscal year in which the county received $52,982.