Street Sweeping Starts Monday

Street sweeper parking enforcement starts May 3

Elkins, W. Va., April 16, 2021: The Elkins street-sweeping season begins Monday. All property owners and residents are asked to review the 2021 Street Sweeper Schedule to learn when vehicles must be moved so as not to obstruct the street sweeper. Starting Monday, May 3, city police will ticket vehicles left parked on streets scheduled for street sweeping.

Elkins sweeps streets Monday-Friday during the spring, summer, and fall, visiting each street once per week. The purpose of the program is to reduce the amount of litter and debris on city streets, both to reduce strain on the wastewater treatment plant and to maintain a visually attractive streetscape.

Notification of cancelled street-sweeper runs will be issued when possible. However, when the sweeper route is cut short due to mechanical problems, inclement weather, operator emergencies, or other factors beyond our control, it is not always possible to issue such notifications. The best practice is to establish a routine of moving vehicles on the appointed day and continue that practice weekly until the end of sweeper season.

For schedule and other information: www.bit.ly/ElkinsStreetSweeper.

Please contact the Operations Department with questions: 304-636-1414, Ext. 1437 ; spoe@cityofelkinswv.com.

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Mayor Announces New Committees, Committee Memberships

Establishes Ad Hoc Collaboration and Marketing Committee and Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force

Elkins, W. Va., April 7, 2021: Mayor Jerry Marco has made changes to Elkins council committee memberships and announced the formation of a new ad hoc Collaboration and Marketing Committee and a new inter-agency Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force.

Under the new city charter adopted by council last year, Elkins mayors are granted authority to decide the membership of council’s standing committees and may also establish and appoint members of ad hoc committees. By longstanding custom, committee memberships are typically updated immediately following the city’s biannual elections.

Mayor Marco explained that the purpose of the new Collaboration and Marketing Committee is to further strengthen lines of communication between city officials and other agencies, organizations, and stakeholders in the Elkins community. Committee members will be charged with reducing duplication of efforts and increasing collaboration communitywide toward a goal of making Elkins even more appealing and attractive to new residents and businesses. Appointed to this committee are Councilors Charles S. Friddle, III; Nanci Bross-Fregonara; Clint Higgins; and Linda Vest.

The Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force will consist of one council member, the chief of the Elkins Police Department, and the Randolph County sheriff. There will be at least four citizen members, as well. This body will also look for opportunities to reduce duplication of efforts, but specifically in the areas of addiction and homelessness prevention and response. According to Marco, task force members will seek and share information about available strategies and resources, as well as identifying and advocating for needed new resources.

Prior to adoption of the new charter, there were five standing council committees, and these are now stipulated as permanent: Finance, Rules & Ordinances, Municipal Properties, Public Safety, and Personnel. The table below shows the previous and new membership of each.

Committee Previous Membership New Membership
Finance Charles Friddle, III (chair)
Carman Metheny
Marilynn Cuonzo
Mike Hinchman (chair)
Rob Chenoweth
Christopher Lowther
Rules & Ordinances Linda Vest (chair)
Mike Hinchman
Rob Chenoweth
Nanci Bross-Fregonara (chair)
Clint Higgins
Marilynn Cuonzo
Municipal Properties Marilynn Cuonzo (chair)
Christopher Lowther
Karen Wilmoth
Marilynn Cuonzo (chair)
Charles Friddle, III
Judy Guye
Public Safety David Parker (chair)
Linda Vest
Mike Hinchman
David Parker (chair)
Judy Guye
Mike Hinchman
Personnel Carman Metheny (chair)
David Parker
Judy Guye
Rob Chenoweth (chair)
Linda Vest
Christopher Lowther

 

The Finance Committee has announced that it will continue to meet first Mondays at 10 a.m. Public Safety will continue to meet second Mondays at 10 a.m. The other committees have not yet announced the dates/times of their regular meetings.

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Elkins Announces New GIS Department

Elkins, W. Va., March 31, 2021: The establishment of a new department within the Elkins city government will enable City of Elkins to take even better advantage of modern digital tools and techniques for analyzing and presenting important data. Ben Martin, formerly an AmeriCorps member working with Elkins Main Street, has been hired as the city’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician and the sole member of the city’s new GIS Department.

The term GIS refers to specialized hardware, software, and personnel organized for the purpose of gathering, managing, and analyzing data with geospatial components. Most associated with the field of geography, GIS combines non-spatial data, such as demographics, records, or other details, with a spatial component, such as an address, coordinate, or boundary. Adding a spatial component to data allows GIS technicians to perform a range of analyses to better understand how data is related, where those relationships exist in the world around us, and what insights can be obtained from these relationships.

“While GIS tools help collect and discover new insights into data, GIS is most well-known for the ability to produce maps, and for good reason,” said Martin. “Without accurate, easily understood maps, the most profound insights from data won’t be visible to the end user. A lot of the efficiencies from GIS in local government come from being able to share information effectively with the public, elected officials, and city employees, and maps are a great tool for doing so.”

Indeed, one of the first priorities for the new department will involve mapping, specifically to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently recorded only on old paper maps and in the heads of longtime city employees.

“Right now, we have to rely more than we want to on human memory when it comes to locating key pieces of underground infrastructure,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “It will be a big step forward to be able to start systematically mapping all of that so that all city departments can access the information.”

The GIS technician will also collect data on new infrastructure components, such as the replacement remote-read water meters currently being installed citywide, as they go into the ground.

“The value of having every one of these water meters in a GIS database is not just being able to see them on a map and locate them more easily in the field, it’s being able to easily access information about each one, like its installation date, maintenance history, and other details that can save our crews time troubleshooting problems or making maintenance decisions,” Pingley says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”

Other high-priority projects for the GIS Department include managing the public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard that will come online during 2021 and coordinating sharing city address information with county E911 and addressing officials. GIS solutions can also help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.

Martin has already begun deploying GIS applications on the city’s GIS homepage (coewv.maps.arcgis.com).

“As quick demo projects, we’ve put up apps for exploring results from the 2019 and 2021 city elections, as well as a dashboard to help city residents figure out what ward they’re in for Spring Cleanup,” says Martin. “These are just simple first steps, but they give a taste of what GIS can do for Elkins. I’m really excited about building out these offerings and seeing what Elkins can accomplish with GIS tools.”

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Paperless Billing Could Save City $30,000 a Year

Online bill payment reduces errors, frees time for value-added work

Elkins, W. Va., March 26, 2021: Significant savings and efficiency improvements could be achieved if city utility customers opted for paperless billing and paid those bills online or by phone, a City of Elkins official announced today.

Most of the city’s utility customers still receive paper bills and remit payments using paper checks, incurring significant costs and processing time, according to Elkins City Treasurer Tracy Judy.

“Over the last three fiscal years, the cost of sending out utility and fire-fee bills averaged $29,296 annually for postage alone,” says Tracy Judy, the Elkins city treasurer. “That’s not counting the costs of paper, ink, equipment, and labor for doing the printing and mailing. I know we probably won’t ever get to 100-percent paperless billing, but it would be great to save even half of the money we’re currently spending on paper billing.”

Similarly, if more people paid bills online or by phone, Treasurer’s Department personnel could be reassigned from processing paper checks to more value-added work.

“Around 60 percent of our customers are still paying by check, so my staff is spending at least 15 workhours a week slitting envelopes, sorting checks, and performing manual data entry,” said Judy.

In addition to the high cost, this heavy reliance on paper bills and check payments has significant downsides for the city and its customers.

“The more manual data entry we perform, the higher the chance of errors, and that’s reduced with online payments,” she says. “Also, those fifteen hours a week we spend processing payments are fifteen hours we can’t spend making sure all businesses in town are paying their B&O taxes, contacting customers about payment discrepancies, and tracking down missing information on filed paperwork. It’s also fifteen hours we can’t spend on planning, professional education, and cross-training. Obviously, there is only so much we can fit into an extra 15 hours a week, but I would love to be doing at least some of these other things instead of opening envelopes.”

Requesting paperless billing is as easy as contacting Treasurer’s Department staff by phone or email to supply an email address.

To make online payments, customers must first take just a few minutes to set up an account with PSN, the city’s online payments contractor. Payments can be made via credit card or from checking or savings accounts. PSN uses strong encryption and security protocols to protect users’ financial information. There is no charge for customers to use this service, which may be accessed here: www.bit.ly/ElkinsBills.

After setting up a PSN account, customers can activate autopay and never miss a payment, a feature that is especially helpful given current U.S. mail slowdowns.

“With all of my own bills, I always use autopay whenever possible,” says Judy. “The mail has been a lot slower lately, but utility payments are due on time even if the bill is delayed. With autopay turned on, customers can be sure their payment will be received before the penalty date, avoiding late fees and cutoffs.”

Customers who don’t want to use autopay have the option of logging on to pay each bill individually, sending payment immediately or scheduling it for later. On the PSN platform, customers can also view current and past bills and review payment history.

Customers who prefer to pay by phone can call 877-885-7968 and make payments either through an automated phone system or by speaking with a PSN call-center representative.

Judy says that maximizing paperless billing and online or pay-by-phone payments is in the best interests of city residents, businesses, and other community stakeholders.

“When I talk about wanting to save 15 hours a week that we’re currently using to process checks, I know some people may see this as complaining because processing checks is part of our job,” she says. “I see our job as saving taxpayer money wherever we can and providing maximum value for the money that is spent. That’s why I want to see more customers adopting paperless billing and paying bills online or by phone.”

To request paperless billing or for help with questions about paying bills online or by phone, contact the Treasurer’s Department.

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Elkins to Seek Input on Rescue Act Funds

The city’s $2.9 million disbursement could come with significant restrictions

Elkins, W. Va., March 15, 2021: In response to news reports that the City of Elkins is slated to receive approximately $2.9 million in federal funds through the recently enacted American Rescue Act, city officials have begun considering how this money might be used. The city has not yet received any official guidance concerning allowed uses or other restrictions.

“This payment is one of the biggest things to happen to Elkins in generations,” says Finance Committee Chairman Charlie Friddle. “We need to think carefully about what the highest and best uses for it would be.”

Friddle emphasized that it is early to begin considering concrete possibilities.

“Frankly, we don’t know any more about this funding than what has appeared in the news,” he said. “The federal government hasn’t communicated with us in any way about this yet, so we really don’t know how this money can be spent.”

Although details concerning this payment are not yet known, past stimulus funds have had significant restrictions attached.

“CARES Act money could only be spent on very specific categories of pandemic-related costs,” said City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “We don’t know if this funding will be as restricted, and it’ll be a bit of a waiting game before we find out. Remember, CARES Act money took a long time to reach states, and the guidance on how it could be used changed frequently throughout last year.”

Before finalizing any decisions about this money, officials will seek input from the community at large. Officials will also consult with partner agencies and organizations, including the Randolph County Commission, which is reported to be receiving its own $5.6 million disbursement.

According to statewide organizations and news reports, American Rescue Act funds for local governments are expected to be disbursed in two payments, one in April and one about a year later.

“One thing we have to keep in mind is that this is one-time windfall money, not new recurring income,” said Treasurer T. Judy. “We need to make sure we don’t spend it in ways that create ongoing costs that would be difficult to cover once it’s gone.”

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Council Certifies Vote Tallies for 2021 Election

New mayor and councilors to be sworn in March 31, take office April 1

Elkins, W. Va., March 10, 2021: Meeting yesterday as the Elkins Board of canvassers, the Elkins council certified vote totals in the 2021 Municipal Election. The new mayor and the five councilors elected at this election will be sworn in March 31 and take office April 1.

The vote totals that council certified Wednesday were unchanged since the declaration of results at the close of Monday’s canvass. During the canvass, council reviewed 32 provisional ballots and accepted 22 of them, changing some vote totals but not the outcomes of any races. Candidates had 48 hours from the close of the canvass to request recounts, but none did, enabling council to certify as final the declared vote tallies in all five city wards.

Citywide, Jerry Marco won the office of mayor with 719 votes out of 1,039 cast. Votes for other mayoral candidates were as follows: Andrew Carroll, 146; D.C. Talkington, 5; and Karen Wilmoth, 169.

Also voted on by all city voters were three proposed charter amendments. A proposal to adopt the Mayor-Manager form of government was defeated 685 to 334. A proposal to pledge compliance with open government laws and a proposal to extend the mayor’s term from two to four years succeeded 780 to 229 and 563 to 458, respectively.

In the First Ward council race, incumbent Robert Chenoweth retained his seat with 260 votes against two challengers, Phillips Kolsun, who received 62 votes, and Travis Norwood, who received 40 votes.

In the Second Ward council race, incumbent Charles Friddle, III prevailed over challenger Carman Pennington, 95 to 76.

In the Third Ward council race, challenger Clint Higgins defeated incumbent Carman Metheny 52 to 38.

There was no incumbent in the Fourth Ward council race, as Karen Wilmoth—the councilor whose term was expiring—filed to run for mayor instead. In Fourth Ward, a former council member, Nanci Bross-Fregonara, defeated first-time candidate Liz Marshall-MacVean 143 to 98.

In Fifth Ward, incumbent Councilor David Parker received 72 votes, defeating challengers Howard Knapp (6 votes) and Burley Woods (67 votes).

The new mayor and all five council members commencing new terms April 1 will be sworn in at a special council meeting at 7 p.m. on March 31, at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

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Two dead in River Street Fire

House was posted as uninhabitable with entrances sealed

Elkins, W. Va., March 10, 2021: Two people died last night in a fire that occurred in a house on River Street. The house had been closed and posted as uninhabitable by city fire and code enforcement officials. The decedents have not been identified, and the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating.

The house, at 5 River Street, had been offered for sale at auction in 2019 for unpaid property taxes but did not sell. The State of West Virginia now holds a lien against the property for the unpaid taxes and associated fees.

This property came to the attention of city officials last year because of a large refuse pile in the backyard and signs of entry and occupation by unauthorized persons. Because there was no water service to the house, it was considered de facto uninhabitable under city code. The front porch was also missing, and the house was in a general and advanced state of disrepair.

City Code Enforcement Officer Phil Isner ordered the unauthorized occupants to vacate the premises, requested electrical power be disconnected, and—on June 1, 2020—posted signs on the front and back doors informing that the house had been determined to be unsafe. The signs prohibited occupancy until such time as an official finding that the identified hazardous conditions had been corrected.

At the time of the posting, Isner sealed the back door with plywood and screwed the front door shut. He also closed and locked the building’s windows. Isner and Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader included the property on their near-daily rounds monitoring properties of concern.

Lacking title to the property or a court order authorizing further steps, the city had at this point exhausted its options for enforcement actions against this property. After the posting, the city offered to redeem the tax lien, take title of the property, and shoulder the cost of demolishing the decrepit structure, but this offer was declined by the owner of record.

The Elkins Fire Department responded to the fire and attempted to make entry, but the building was fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived. Because the fire occurred in a building with no electrical power or gas service, it seems to have resulted from human activity. As is always the case when fires result in deaths, the W. Va. State Fire Marshal is investigating and will be the only source of any further official statements regarding this matter.

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Elkins Returning to In-Person Meetings

Council Meetings will be held at Phil Gainer Community Center

Elkins, W. Va., February 24, 2021: Elkins Common Council and its committees will return to in-person meetings March 1, Mayor Van Broughton ordered last week. Committee meetings will be held in council chambers, while council meetings—including when council convenes as the Board of Canvassers following the March 2 city election—will be held at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

“We can hold committee meetings in council chambers because, with only three council members and some city staff members, there will be enough room for people to spread out,” said Broughton. “We’re moving council meetings to the Phil Gainer Center because there just isn’t room in council chambers for social distancing between ten council members and a half dozen city employees.”

The mayor’s order prohibited attendance by anyone currently experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, having tested positive for the COVID-19 virus within fourteen days of the meeting, or residing in a household with anyone in any of these categories. Attendees will be required to sign in, provide contact information, and affirm that they are in compliance with these requirements.

The mayor also listed safety precautions that councilors, city staff, and audience members will be asked to follow at in-person council and committee meetings.

  • Face coverings must be worn by all persons at all times, except when speaking. Speakers must be six feet or separated by a partition from other persons.
  • Audience members who do not reside in the same household must maintain a six-foot distance from each other.
  • To enable appropriate distancing, a maximum capacity will be enforced for both council chambers and the Phil Gainer Center. (The number will depend on how many attendees are from the same household and so cannot be posted in advance.)

The mayor says he believes returning to in-person meetings with these precautions in place achieves the necessary balance of safety and openness.

“As mayor, I take my responsibility to the citizens, to city employees, and to [council] very seriously,” said Broughton, in his order. “This includes protection of health and safety along with operation of a transparent government. I have continued to work with the administrative officers in evaluating our local pandemic-related health conditions and balancing that with our duty as elected officials. I am confident we have made the right decisions so far and that we will continue to make good decisions moving forward.”

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Elkins Receives Clean Bill of Financial Health on 2020 Audit

City Has Received “Unmodified” Audit Opinions Every Year Since 2012

Elkins W. Va., February 19, 2021: At last night’s council meeting, Elkins Treasurer Tracy Judy reported that the city received a clean bill of financial health on its annual audit. State law requires West Virginia cities to undergo yearly audits. This audit, which examined financial records from the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020, was performed by accountants working for BHM CPA Group, an Ohio-based public accounting firm with offices in Huntington, West Virginia.

The purpose of a municipal audit is to verify the city’s financial position as described on its annual financial statements. Auditors determine the accuracy of these statements by reviewing the city’s accounting procedures and examining financial records related to revenues and expenditures, grant administration, bank accounts, and more. Auditors also evaluate the city’s fraud-prevention safeguards and compliance with state law and government accounting standards.

Judy reported that auditors gave the city high marks.

“We received our ninth unmodified opinion in a row,” she said. “That means the auditors didn’t find any discrepancies or areas of concern.”

Sometimes also referred to as an “unqualified” or “clean” opinion, an unmodified opinion is the best result an audit can return because it indicates that auditors have found no misrepresentations of fact or failures to follow appropriate accounting standards. As Judy mentioned, Elkins has received unmodified opinions in each of its annual audits since the fiscal year ending in 2012.

The audit process begins each summer with a letter from the state auditor authorizing the procurement of an audit and providing a list of approved accounting firms. The city’s Audit Committee then solicits and evaluates proposals from at least three firms on this list. The evaluation process uses a score sheet published by the state auditor to assign points to the firms that submit proposals. Per the state auditor, the firm with the highest score must then be selected to perform the city’s audit.

Next, the selected firm receives the city’s financial statements, which are published each fall. The firm examines these statements carefully and uses them to devise an audit plan, including questions to be answered and tests to be performed.

Some of these questions are answered through correspondence and phone calls. Then, usually in January, the firm sends a team of accountants to visit city hall. Over the course of about a week, these accountants request records and interview staff members. One of this team’s tasks is the random sampling of transactions from the year under review, to ensure that the proper authorization, execution, and accounting records can be produced on demand.

Several weeks after this on-site visit concludes, the firm transmits the results of the audit to council.

“Receiving an unmodified opinion confirms that our daily procedures are correct, which is important for both councilors and the public to know,” says Judy. “I’m proud of the hard, careful work my team puts into safeguarding public funds.”

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(Photo credit: www.401kcalculator.org)

EFD: Install Carbon Monoxide Alarms, Test Monthly

Colorless, Odorless Gas is an Invisible Killer

Elkins, W. Va., February 12, 2021: The Elkins Fire Department is reminding area residents of the importance of installing carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home and testing them once a month. CO alarms provide an early warning of the presence of deadly CO gas, and monthly tests are vital to ensure they are working properly.

“Carbon monoxide is the invisible killer,” says Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader. “It’s an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels burn incompletely. Inside the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in an attached garage or a generator running inside a home or attached garage can also produce dangerous levels. The only way to detect CO is with a working CO alarm.”

According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2016, fire departments responded to about 80,000 non-fire CO calls per year, almost all in the home. More than 400 people die each year, on average, from unintentional CO poisoning from consumer appliances, motor vehicles, and other sources, according to the CDC.

“CO monitors can cost as little as $5,” says Meader. “That’s well worth it when you consider you might be saving a life.”

The Elkins Fire Department, NFPA, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) advise residents to take certain steps to ensure that their household is safe from CO.

“First, never ignore an alarming CO alarm,” says Meader. “It is warning you of a potentially deadly hazard.  If the alarm signal sounds, do not try to find the source of the CO. Immediately move outside to fresh air and then call 911.”

Next, ensure your CO alarm is working properly by following the steps below:

  • Test CO alarms once a month using the test button, and replace CO alarms if they fail to respond correctly when tested.
  • Make sure you have CO alarms in your home outside each separate sleeping area, on every level and in other locations as required by laws, codes or standards.
  • Replace the CO alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions or when the end-of-life signal sounds.
  • Know the difference between the sound of the CO alarm and the smoke alarm and their low-battery signals. If the audible low-battery signal sounds, replace the batteries, or replace the device.
  • Follow manufacturer’s installation instructions.
  • For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one CO alarm sounds, they all sound.

Area residents with questions or concerns about CO alarm testing and alarm requirements may contact the Elkins Fire Department at (304) 636-3433. Information is also available here: www.cdc.gov/co.

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