Council to Fill Third Ward Vacancy

City Councilor Clint Higgins (Third Ward) has resigned. Applications will be accepted until December 23 from Third Ward residents interested in being appointed to fill his seat until the 2023 election.

How Council Fills Vacant Seats

The city charter stipulates that, when a council seat becomes vacant,  it “shall be filled by appointment of a qualified person by council.” The charter further states that, in addition to being qualified to vote in Elkins, “councilors shall reside in the ward to be represented at the time of nomination and throughout the term of office.” Only voting-age persons who are qualified to vote in Third Ward are, therefore, eligible to apply for this position.

A protocol adopted by council in 2016 spells out the process of filling a vacancy in more detail. As required by this protocol, council has adopted a resolution officially announcing the vacancy, establishing an application period and deadline, and directing how applications may be submitted.

The resolution directs interested candidates to submit resumes in person/by mail to the Elkins City Clerk, 401 Davis Avenue, or electronically to jsutton@cityofelkinswv.com, no later than 12:30 p.m. on December 23. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the mayor and council, and interviews will be scheduled.

Interviews are performed by council and the mayor and consist of a standardized set of questions. Answers are scored by all elected officials present, and an average score is calculated.

The interview step is followed by a meeting at which council deliberates toward its top candidate. Once this candidate’s continued interest has been verified, he or she will be scheduled for appointment at the next council meeting.

Persons interested in applying are encouraged to attend council meetings, on first and third Thursdays, and to learn as much as possible about the structure of the Elkins government, which is unusual.

What Council Members Do

Elkins is chartered as a weak-mayor/strong-council system. Under this arrangement, Elkins mayors have limited authority. Councilors have no individual authority, but, acting as a 10-person body, the Elkins council exercises virtually all executive and corporate authority over the City of Elkins.

Through majority votes by a quorum of its members, council passes laws, adopts rules, and sets policy and strategic goals. Council is responsible for adopting the annual budget and monitoring the fiscal condition of the city; councilors can be held individually liable if budgets are overspent.

Five administrative officers report to council (the city clerk, the city treasurer, the fire chief, the operations manager, and the police chief). These officers are responsible for day-to-day operating and administrative decisions for their departments.

Elkins councilors are paid $7,200 a year and can enroll in the West Virginia Public Employees Retirement System. Alternatively, they may forego salary and participation in the retirement system and instead join the city’s PEIA health-insurance plan. No other benefits are available to council members.

Read more about what city councilors do: www.cityofelkinswv.com/government/city-clerk/elections/what-city-councilors-do.

Find what ward you’re in: www.bit.ly/elkins-ward-finder

Elkins Simplifies Agenda Access, Management with Online Platform

Members of the public have a new way to access Elkins council agendas online and can even sign up to be notified when a new agenda is posted, thanks to an online agenda management platform that council recently adopted. The new online tool, which is called CivicClerk, will also speed up preparation and distribution of meeting documents, saving staff time for more valuable work.

For each council meeting, councilors and staff need access not only to agendas but also to a large volume of supporting materials, including staff reports, the text of resolutions and ordinances, and other documents necessary for informed decisions. These meeting packets can run to 100 or more pages.

Previous Method was Manual, Time-Consuming

Previously, the Elkins council’s meeting packets were assembled  as single PDF documents through a time-consuming process that introduced the possibility of manual error. The resulting PDF files were also not user-friendly for councilors to refer to and annotate during meetings.

With CivicClerk agenda management software, it is now simpler for the city clerk to manage submission and approval of requested council action items and to attach supporting documentation to specific agenda items for ease of reference. Councilors now have access to notetaking and annotation features within the application interface and can more easily refer to materials from past meetings, all inside the same online interface.

New Solution Simplifies Public Access

The new solution will also make it even easier for members of the public to stay in the loop concerning when meetings are being held and to view meeting packets for upcoming and past meetings.

West Virginia governing bodies, such as the Elkins council, are required by law to post paper copies of their agendas in a public place. Like many cities and counties, Elkins has long made its agendas (and related meeting documents) available online, as a convenience for the public. The process of posting these items to the city website was also manual, creating additional risk of errors and oversights.

With the new platform, when an agenda or meeting packet is finished and ready, it can be published both for councilors and other internal users as well as for the public with one click, eliminating duplication of effort.

How to Take Advantage of the New Platform

The City of Elkins CivicClerk Agenda Center is available on this page of the city website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/agenda-center. There, visitors will see a list of current and upcoming events (i.e., meetings), as well as a list of the most recent events. Registration is not necessary to view published agendas, packets, and minutes. By registering, however, users can subscribe to receive notifications when council and committee agendas are published.

To enable staff and councilors to learn the new platform, it is only being used for council agendas and other documents pertinent to council meetings for the time being. Early next year, it will be rolled out for all council committees as well.

Board and Commission Openings

Last modified on December 2nd, 2022 at 04:07 pm

Applications are being accepted through Wednesday, December 7 from persons interested in filling vacancies on several area boards and commissions. Many important city policies and projects are designed and managed not by the mayor and council but by the city’s boards and commissions. Citizen volunteers who serve on these bodies play a vital role in city governance. Maybe you’d like to get involved!

The following boards and commissions have vacancies:

Randolph County Board of Health

This board oversees the Elkins-Randolph County Health Department. There is one vacancy; applicants must be city residents. This board meets bi-monthly.

Board of Zoning Appeals

This board hears appeals to zoning decisions, such as when the city’s zoning officer denies a certain use in a certain location. There are three vacancies; applicants must have resided in Elkins for at least three years. This board meets rarely, for periodic administrative work and as needed in response to an appeal.

Board of IPMC Appeals

This board hears appeals to citations issued for violations of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). There is one vacancy; applicants must be residents of Randolph County but do not need to live in Elkins. Experience in property maintenance or a related field is required (please get in touch to discuss if you are not sure). This board meets rarely, for periodic administrative work and as needed in response to an appeal.

Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission

This commission provides education about, advocacy for, and preservation of Elkins historic properties and landmarks. There is one vacancy; applicants must be residents of Randolph County but do not need to live in Elkins. This commission meets monthly.

More Information

For more information about these openings, please contact the Office of the City Clerk.

Download an application by clicking here. Applications are due December 7.

For more information about City of Elkins board and commission openings, click here.

Elkins tree board receives gold leaf award

ELKINS–The City of Elkins Tree Board (ETB) was recently awarded the prestigious Gold Leaf Award by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), which recognizes excellence in Arbor Day or Landscape Beautification projects in the Mid-Atlantic region. The award is for outstanding Arbor Day activities which will significantly impact the community.

This international distinction for the tree board resulted from a nomination by the WVU School of Natural Resources Chapter of the ISA.

In making the nomination, Dr. David McGill, Professor and Extension Service Specialist with the WVU Forest Resources Management department, said he immediately thought of Elkins. “It is in the heart of the Highlands, has the Forest Festival in its beautiful city park, and a Pollinator Alley in Glendale Park. When I asked someone who did all that work, I heard about the Elkins Tree Board. Having seen the nice landscaping downtown and other areas, which show how hard the Tree Board and community members have worked–the Elkins Tree Board was a natural choice.”

In 2022, the Elkins Tree Board planted over 30 trees for Arbor Day at Elkins City Park and Bluegrass Park. The combined tree planting events attracted over 50 volunteers associated with the Elkins Friends of Trees, Emma Scott Garden Club, Elkins Park and Recreation, the Children’s Home, and individual families. The ETB also co-sponsored the Earth Day celebration, participated in the downtown Sprout into Spring event, and hosted hands-on workshops.

The Gold Leaf award from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the ISA was presented to the ETB board by Sam Adams, an urban forester with the WV Division of Forestry, at the recent Adopt-A-Tree event held at the Elkins Tree Nursery on the Gov. Kump House grounds.

Since its creation, the ETB has successfully garnered grants for urban trees downtown, enhanced the Pollinator Alley at Glendale Park, and maintains a tree nursery and heirloom apple orchard at the Kump Education Center. The board meets at the Darden House on the first Tuesday of the month. Follow the Elkins Friends of Trees on Facebook for more information on upcoming events.

Contact: Nanci Bross-Fregonara, Elkins Tree Board, nbross-fregonara@cityofelkinswv.com  

CUTLINE:

Elkins Tree Board members were on hand to receive the prestigious ISA Gold Leaf award for excellence in Arbor Day activities from WV Division of Forestry urban forester Sam Adams. From left, Linda Silva, Nanci Bross-Fregonara, Adams, Katy McClane (Friends of Trees), Marilynn Cuonzo, Angela Davis, Linda Burke and Aira Burkhart. Not pictured is board member Sam Golston.

Council Revises Law on Nuisance Animal Noise

Clarifies that animal noise complaints are handled by city police

The Elkins council has revised city law concerning nuisance noise caused by animals. The new law, which is enforced by the Elkins Police Department (EPD), is effective immediately.

Ordinance 307, approved on final reading November 3, amends Elkins City Code §90.30. (The language in the city’s online code will be updated soon.) The previous language focused only on dogs and prohibited allowing them “to bark or howl continuously for more than 15 consecutive minutes.” After internal and external feedback concerning the difficulty of enforcing this, as well as the need for this section to address the nuisance noise of other kinds of animals, new language was drafted by the city attorney at the request of council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee.

As revised, Elkins City Code §90.30 now states that “no person shall keep or harbor any dog, cat or other animal within the  City which, by frequent and habitual barking, howling, yelping, crying or squalling creates unreasonably loud and disturbing noises of such character, intensity and duration as to disturb the peace, quiet and good order of the City.”

Those cited under the new law are subject to fines established from time to time by council via resolution and, as such, not listed in the online code, as authorized in §90.99. The maximum fine established by council for an offense under this section is currently $100.

EPD Chief Travis Bennett explains that, although enforcement actions under the new language will depend on officer judgement and discretion, this is no different from many other provisions of city and state law.

“This new language is similar to the language in city code about breach of peace,” says Bennett. “One of the offenses in that section is when a person is making unreasonably loud noise, and that’s a judgement call, too. I have faith that my officers will be able to make good decisions about when to issue citations and when to try to address the situation through education and warnings instead.”

Officials also want to clear up confusion about where to direct reports of nuisance animal noise. It should be considered a police matter, according to Bennett.

“This ordinance is enforced by city police,” says Chief Bennett. “Loud barking is really no different from a loud party that is keeping neighbors from enjoying their property and should be reported to my department so an officer can go out and evaluate the situation.”

Those wishing to report nuisance animal noise can call EPD directly during business hours or 911 after hours. EPD can be reached at 304-636-0678 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Access Elkins City Code directly: www.codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/elkinswv/latest/overview

Learn more about local and state laws and codes governing Elkins: www.cityofelkinswv.com/government/elkins-city-code

Retaining Local Property Taxes for Local Projects

Tax increment financing funds new projects without spending cuts, tax increases

There are many opportunities for public improvements in Elkins, but they all involve significant costs. What if there were a source of funds for city projects that didn’t require raising taxes or cutting spending on other services and projects?

On Thursday, the Elkins council will hear a presentation about just such a funding source: tax increment financing (TIF). TIF is a mechanism created in state law to help cities and counties pay for needed projects when other financing is not available. At the heart of TIF is the concept of reserving future increases in property tax revenues for local use, while avoiding the need to increase property-tax rates.

To use this tool, a city or county government first defines a specific geographic area as a TIF district. These districts must be carefully designed to encompass properties that are likely to see significant increases in assessed value—where large redevelopment or renovation projects are planned, for example—and to exclude properties expected to decrease in value, such as dilapidated houses or abandoned commercial buildings.

Next, as a baseline, the current assessed value of all real and certain personal property in the TIF district is recorded. In a well-designed TIF district, the overall value of property it contains will increase with each annual reassessment by the county assessor. The city or county that has created the TIF district then retains the difference between the property taxes owed on the original baseline assessed property values and the higher property taxes owed as a result of the reassessed property values.

In other words, the amount of property tax revenue that flows into the countywide pot from properties in the TIF district remains flat from the baseline year, while the city or county implementing TIF can use the incremental increases in property tax revenues for local projects. Any shortfall in funds available for county schools is made whole by the state’s school aid formula.

“It’s important to understand that no one pays higher property taxes as a result of TIF,” says Jessica Sutton, the Elkins city clerk, who has been researching the viability of this funding mechanism for Elkins. “These property owners would be paying higher taxes as a result of increased assessed property value either way. But with TIF, Elkins gets to direct the spending of those incremental increases toward public improvement projects that reinforce the investments being made by those property owners and encourage additional investment in the surrounding area.”

Cities or counties interested in using TIF have to apply to the West Virginia Development Authority. Applications must include a written description and map of the TIF district and a description of projects that TIF-derived funds will be used for. The description of projects must include job creation estimates, feasibility studies, and other planning documents.

TIF revenues are deposited in a standalone bank account and must be used for the approved projects, although it is possible to apply to add new projects or amend existing project plans. By default, the TIF district will remain in existence and continue to generate revenue for 30 years. This time limit may be extended upon approval by the state development authority.

Thursday’s presentation marks only the beginning of council’s consideration of TIF as a tool for financing public improvements in Elkins; there is not yet a formal proposal and no decisions are anticipated at Thursday’s meeting.

A good candidate for a TIF district in Elkins, where assessed property values are likely to rise considerably in the near future, would include the Tygart Hotel (currently under renovation and scheduled to open in 2023 as a boutique hotel), the Elkins Railyard (the planned site of an event center), and the piece of land purchased by the Randolph County Development Authority from the former Odd Fellows property (which will be used to expand the Elkins Industrial Park).

Candidate projects for TIF funding in Elkins include:

  • The Riverfront Development Project, a $2.4-$3.3 million plan for beautification, restoration, safe alternative transportation routes, and expanded recreational opportunities along the Elkins riverfront.
  • The EAST Recreational Trails Project, a $1-$3 million initiative to build world-class mixed-use trails in and around Elkins.
  • The Streetscape Improvement Project, a plan for improving visual appeal, infrastructure, amenities, wayfinding, and sidewalks in the downtown ($200,000 to $300,000 per block).
  • Railyard Improvements Project, a $3.6 million project for roadways, infrastructure, plaza development, and other improvements both supporting the RCDA’s planned event center and increasing the site’s appeal for new businesses.
  • Industrial Park Improvements Project, a $2-$3 million project to make the RCDA’s newly acquired former Odd Fellows property “move-in ready” for new businesses with roadways, sidewalks, lighting, and other infrastructure.

Presenting this information at Thursday’s 7 p.m. council meeting will be Dave Clark, executive director of Woodlands Development & Lending; Robbie Morris, executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority; Joe Nassif, managing director of Piper Sandler and a specialist in public finance tools such as TIF; and Sutton.

“With all of the exciting opportunities Elkins has right now, it’s been invigorating learning about how some of it might actually be accomplished without needing to raise anyone’s taxes, shift funds away from current services and projects, or rely on grant funding,” says Sutton. “Tax increment financing looks like a great way to hold onto local tax dollars for the betterment of our own community.”

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Garman Bequest Funds New Rubber Mulch for City Park

Delivery was taken of 48,000 pounds of rubber mulch at City Park today. This is the first of two shipments of mulch, for a total of 96,000 pounds, that will be installed in all of City Park’s playground and swing-set areas for increased safety and added visual appeal. The purchase of this mulch, at a cost of $22,672, was funded through a bequest in the will of Donald Garmer.

The bequest funds are restricted by the terms of Mr. Garmer’s will for use in City Park, but the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission has already authorized the purchase of additional rubber mulch for all playgrounds throughout the Elkins park system using ARPA funds. The mulch for the other playgrounds will be ordered after installation of the City Park mulch, so that EPRC officials can verify the accuracy of their estimates concerning the needed amounts.

After the second shipment of mulch for City Park arrives, and before installation can begin, the site must be prepared. A contractor will use heavy equipment to remove the old mulch and dig out the areas to a uniform depth. Excavation using hand tools will be necessary close to play equipment and swing sets. Landscaping fabric must also be put in place before the mulch can be added.

EPRC has already committed Garmer bequest funds for replacement of all exterior lighting in City Park, installation of tamper-proof covers on exterior breaker boxes and control panels, sign replacement, resealing the basketball court, resealing the old tennis court and lining it for pickleball and cornhole, and repairing a broken beam on the large pavilion. Possible future projects, the viability of which will depend on the cost and availability of materials, include replacement and repair of playground equipment (including new accessibility swings), pavilion roof replacements, extensive building repairs, security cameras, purchase of tools, upgrades to restroom fixtures, accessible playground structures, an ADA-accessible water fountain with dog bowl, and more.

The City of Elkins Street Department assisted in moving today’s shipment of 24 1-ton bundles of mulch from a staging area provided by the U.S. Forest Service on the grounds of the Monongahela National Forest Headquarters.

Public Invited to Smart Growth Workshop Monday

City of Elkins is working with Smart Growth America to envision strategies for effective economic development for our community–and public participation is crucial. The public is invited to an interactive workshop to learn more about promising directions for Elkins, hear about interesting examples from other similar communities, and to share ideas. The workshop will be held on Monday, October 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Phil Gainer Community Center.

During the workshop, Smart Growth America will present data it has collected about the city’s current development patterns, community fiscal health, and promising next steps. City officials and leaders from a variety of public organizations and private businesses will attend other sessions with Smart Growth America representatives to provide insight on specific challenges and opportunities. Workshop attendees will also learn about concrete examples from successful communities similar to Elkins. The goal: a plan to further strengthen and improve Elkins through place-based economic development strategies and catalytic projects.

From the Smart Growth America website:

What is Smart Growth America?

Smart Growth America advocates for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods. The organization works toward smart growth solutions that support thriving businesses and jobs, provide more options for how people get around, and make it more affordable to live near work and the grocery store. The coalition works with communities to counter sprawl and look for opportunities to save money.

Smart Growth America envisions a country where no matter where you live, or who you are, you can enjoy living in a place that is healthy, prosperous, and resilient. We empower communities through technical assistance, advocacy, and thought leadership to realize our vision of livable places, healthy people, and shared prosperity.

Smart investments and common sense solutions

Smart Growth America advocates for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods. We believe smart growth solutions support thriving businesses and jobs, provide more options for how people get around and make it more affordable to live near work and the grocery store. Our coalition works with communities to fight sprawl and save money. We are improving lives by improving communities.

Making communities work for everyone

At the heart of the American dream is the simple hope that each of us can choose to live in a neighborhood that’s beautiful, affordable, and in which it’s easy to get around. We want to create healthy communities with strong local businesses, schools and shops nearby, transportation options and jobs that pay well.

Smart growth strategies help make these dreams a reality. Smart growth is about creating local jobs and protecting the environment. It is about being able to safely walk to a park close by. It is about spending less time in traffic and more time doing what’s important to you.

Wolfe Was Long-Serving Supervisor of Elkins Sewer System

Michael Wolfe, a long-serving and well-respected former Elkins Sanitary Board employee, died on October 5.

Wolfe, 66 at the time of his death, retired in 2021 as the chief operator of the Elkins Wastewater System. His retirement capped 20 years of public service in Elkins. Wolfe began his career in wastewater treatment in Belington, following earlier positions as a truck driver and construction worker. He was also a farmer and volunteered as a youth basketball and baseball coach.

Mike Currence, who recently retired as head of the Wastewater Collection Department and is now consulting for the Sanitary Board, remembers Wolfe as an excellent supervisor who showed a strong commitment not only to his work but to his family.

“I worked under Mike for 3 years, and he was always good to work for and work with,” says Currence. “He reminded you of the typical ‘good old country boy.’ He never wanted anything fancy and just desired the necessities. He was a family man through and through and cherished his family more than anything.”

According to Whitney Hymes, the current chief operator of the Elkins wastewater system, Wolfe was an expert in his field and never hesitated to share his knowledge.

“Not only could Mike fix anything, but he had a gift for teaching others,” says Hymes. “He was always willing to explain things and would take as long as necessary to help you understand.”

Wolfe was a gifted problem solver whose mechanical knowledge and ability to innovate helped the system avoid the expense of retaining outside assistance.

“Mike actually designed a lot of the operational equipment at the plant,” says Hymes. “He was so familiar with the way everything worked, he would often come up with ways to improve a piece of equipment to make it work even better. He could perform a lot of repairs and installations himself, so that saved our customers quite a bit of money. We are still using a lot of structures and equipment that Mike designed himself.”

Hymes notes that Wolfe was often contacted by personnel from other wastewater systems for advice and was twice recognized by the West Virginia Rural Water Association as the state’s Wastewater Operator of the Year. She remembers him as the strong backbone of a high-functioning department.

“Mike was patient and easy to work with,” says Hymes. “If we ever needed anything, he was always there for us.”

 

City of Elkins Awarded $50,000 for Trail Planning from ARC POWER Initiative

Funds EAST Trail Master Plan for bike-optimized trails throughout Randolph County

City of Elkins, part of a collaborative known as Elkins Area Shared Trails (EAST), has been awarded $50,000 by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for a project to develop a plan and blueprint for bike-optimized trails on five properties throughout Randolph County.

The EAST Trail Master Plan will also survey up to 10 miles of trail and conduct preliminary site planning for a community bike-skills area to build the region’s outdoor tourism economy. The goal of the project is to lay the groundwork for a network of multi-purpose trails to capitalize on the strong cycling and outdoor recreation culture of the nearby Mon National Forest.

The EAST Collaborative, which also includes the West Virginia University Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, Davis & Elkins College, Davis Health System, and others, hopes that the creation of a master trail plan for the Randolph County area will serve as a pilot project and shared learning opportunity for the 11 other communities that are, like Elkins, part of the Mon Forest Towns Partnership. The partnership plans to share its experience with the wider community by August 2023.

This award is part of a recently announced nearly $47 million package supporting 52 projects in 181 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative, which directs federal resources to economic diversification projects in Appalachian communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. This is the largest single POWER awards package to date since the initiative launched in 2015.

“Our coal-impacted communities are a vital part of Appalachia’s 13 states and 423 counties—when our coal communities thrive, our entire region is uplifted,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “This latest round of POWER grant funding will not only help struggling coal communities to once again compete in a global marketplace, but also expand support for the creation of new jobs through growing Appalachia’s food economy.”

“City of Elkins and its partners in the EAST collaborative know that robust outdoor recreation infrastructure and opportunities are a key driver of economic development and population growth in communities like ours,” said Jessica Sutton, the Elkins city clerk and the city’s representative on the collaborative. “The trail planning that our ARC POWER Initiative grant award will fund is a significant step forward in attracting new residents, new businesses, and new investment to our community.”

Including today’s award package, ARC has invested nearly $366.6 million in 447 projects impacting 360 coal-impacted counties since POWER was established in 2015. A new evaluation conducted by Chamberlain/Dunn indicates that a majority of POWER projects met or exceeded output and outcome targets, with ARC’s investments projected to have helped create or retain more than 39,600 jobs and prepare over 100,000 workers and students for new opportunities in entrepreneurship, broadband, tourism, and other growing industries.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)

The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.

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