Tree Board Offering Free Pruning Workshop March 26

The City of Elkins Tree Board and Elkins Friends of Trees is sponsoring a free fruit tree pruning and grafting workshop Saturday, March 26 at 2 p.m. in the heirloom apple orchard located on the grounds of the Gov. Kump House. The workshop will be led by David Proudfoot, a member of Backyard Fruit Growers, who has led several workshops on this topic in the area.

“The workshop at the Kump House will show how to graft an apple or pear tree and include a discussion about why we do this,” he said. “People have often been asked me how to save an old apple tree on their property.”

He explains that it is an involved process that includes cutting scion wood from the old tree and grafting it onto new rootstock. “The new tree will have the same apples as the old one. This sometimes takes two years to get useable scion wood,” he said.

Proudfoot will also prune the heirloom apple trees on the Kump House property and explain why it is so important to do this type of tree maintenance, especially in late winter/early spring.

Proudfoot and his wife own Proudfoot Mountain Farm, Belington, where they grow much of their food, including an orchard with various fruit and nut trees and a pick your own blueberries patch.

Another pruning workshop with the West Virginia Division of Forestry urban foresters will take place at Glendale Park. The date and time will be determined soon.

The Kump House is located across the street from Kroger’s at 401 Randolph Ave. Parking for the workshop is available in the rear of the house.

For more information on this event and the Elkins Friends of Trees program, visit the Elkins Friends of Trees Facebook page. If interested in joining Elkins Friends of Trees, email Katy McClane at katy.mcclane@gmail.com. Friends of Trees offers volunteer opportunities to increase and maintain the City of Elkins’ urban greenspace.

The Elkins Tree Board meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden House next to City Hall. The public is welcome to attend.

Contact: Marilynn Cuonzo, Chair, Elkins Tree Board mcuonzo@cityofelkinswv.com  

Elkins Launches Water Problem Reporter

The City of Elkins has launched an online tool that people can use to report problems related to the city’s water system. The COE Water Problem Reporter may be accessed on computers, tablet, and smartphones.

The main purpose of the COE Water Problem Reporter is to make it easier for people to report water problems, but it will also help Elkins Water Board employees track and analyze possible causes of reported problems.

“The idea for this app came out of conversations we were having about how to tackle some of the trickier issues we sometimes face with the water system, like odors, tastes, or discoloration,” says Wes Lambert, the chief operator of the Elkins water system. “These aren’t very common but they are obviously extremely frustrating to the customers experiencing them, and we’re committed to doing everything we can to get to the bottom of these. One thing we’re really excited about is the ability to view problem reports on a map, because we think that could really help us get to the root causes.”

The online app provides both a map interface and text-entry fields. Once a report is submitted, email notifications are automatically sent to both water board and city personnel. As each issue is investigated and resolved, its status can be updated in the app.

“Someone who wants to submit a report can either type in the address or drop a point on the map,” says Ben Martin, the city’s GIS technician and the person who built the app using ArcGIS software. “Anyone can then use the map to see what’s been reported and what the status of each report is.”

The Elkins Water Treatment Plant provides clean drinking water to about 4,000 customer locations inside city limits as well as to the customers of its resale distributors, the Midland and Leadsville Public Service Districts. All water-treatment and water-distribution operations are performed in strict compliance with regulations imposed by the West Virginia DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To further safeguard city water customers, water board employees also perform spot-testing at various locations around the city on a regular basis.

Find the COE Water Problem Reporter here: www.bit.ly/Water-Problem-Reporter.

Elkins Allows Year-Round Outdoor Burning

Outdoor fires to dispose of natural materials are now allowed throughout the year on certain days of the week under a new law adopted by Elkins Common Council last month. The law, which only applies inside Elkins city limits, eliminates the use of burning seasons, establishes safety rules, and clarifies what materials may be burned. A permit issued by Elkins Fire Department is required.

The new law allows only the burning of natural, untreated, and unprocessed materials (such as tree trimmings, grass, leaves, and similar garden waste). Fires to dispose of non-natural materials, including but not limited to paper, garbage, and lumber or other construction debris, are prohibited, even if contained in a “burn barrel” or similar container. Fires to clear grasslands or forests are also prohibited.

Outdoor burning to dispose of these natural materials was previously restricted to certain seasons. Under the new law, such materials may now be burned year-round from 5 p.m. Thursdays to 7 a.m. Fridays; from 5 p.m. Fridays to 7 a.m. Saturdays; and from 5 p.m. Saturdays to 7 a.m. Sundays. Fires must be completely extinguished by 7 a.m.

Before such fires are ignited, a permit must have been issued by Elkins Fire Department. A safety zone around the fire must also be cleared of flammable materials. This cleared area must measure at least 10 feet on all sides of the fire at a minimum but, in any event, must be large enough “to ensure that the fire will be contained,” the law states.

Fires must be attended at all times. Permit holders are required to monitor wind and other conditions and must cancel or extinguish fires if those conditions become unsafe. EFD personnel may order the extinguishing of any fire if they determine that it poses a risk to life or property. Permit holders will be held criminally responsible, and may be found liable for damages, if a fire escapes the safety zone and causes damage to others’ lands or properties.

Under the new law, permits are not required for “small fires set for the purpose of food preparation or for providing light or warmth, the area around which has been cleared of flammable materials in the manner described above.” These fires are allowed whenever weather conditions do not make them unsafe.

Outside Elkins city limits, state burning guidelines must be adhered to. These guidelines are identical to those imposed inside city limits, except that burning is restricted to the seasons March 1-May 31 and October 1-December 31.

To apply for an outdoor burning permit, contact the Elkins Fire Department: (304) 636-3433.

Elkins Appoints New Operations Manager

Sanson brings experience with process and operational excellence

The City of Elkins has a new operations manager who says that “a position like this has been a dream of mine for some time.” The Elkins council appointed Joshua Sanson to lead the city’s Operations Department last night in a unanimous vote. Sanson has lived in Elkins and worked at Davis Medical Center since 2007.

Sanson’s appointment as the new operations manager was recommended by council’s ad hoc Special Hiring Committee, which was formed in the wake of the sudden resignation of the former operations manager last August.

Before advertising this position, the committee first recommended restructuring the Operations Department to improve customer service, increase efficiency, and strengthen compliance with relevant laws, rules, and regulations. Among other changes, these recommendations—which council approved in December—included shifting supervision of the city’s water and wastewater utilities from the Operations Department to their respective boards and chief operators. The committee also spent time revising and improving the position’s job description in consultation with AlignHR, the city’s human resources contractor.

The newly appointed Sanson will supervise the city departments responsible for trash collection; street paving and repairs; code enforcement; building permits and inspections; and the maintenance and upkeep of city hall and other city buildings, facilities, and grounds.

Sanson began his career in the healthcare field as a radiology technician at Davis Medical Center. During his time there, he became interested in a set of management concepts known as process and operational excellence, which are used to improve an organization’s effectiveness and efficiency.

“While at DMC, I was invited to join a multidisciplinary team that was redesigning the emergency department’s space and practices,” says Sanson. “That was my first exposure to the concepts of process and operational excellence.”

That initial experience opened the door to a new field.

“After returning to my department, I was chosen to be trained in Lean tools and concepts and selected to help implement a new daily management system called The Davis Way,” says Sanson. “I had the opportunity to teach and coach operational excellence within this new system, all while getting to see the results in concrete improvements to our operations and processes.”

These experiences taught Sanson the value of increased internal communication, including daily “huddles”; problem identification with root-cause analysis; the standardization of processes; and a team approach across departments.

“Coming out of those experiences, I knew I had found my new career,” says Sanson. “I finished my bachelor’s degree and am currently working on a master’s degree in operations and project management.”

Sanson says he can’t wait to put his skills to work as operations manager for the City of Elkins.

“The City of Elkins is one of the most gorgeous towns on the east coast, and it has always held a special place in my heart,” says Sanson, a Webster County native whose family frequently visited Elkins when he was a child. “I’m looking forward to listening and learning from the frontline folks who keep things rolling every day and seeing how I can help the city be the best place it can be.”

Elkins Seeking Infrastructure Act Funds for Davis Avenue Bridge

Last modified on February 11th, 2022 at 09:12 am

The bridge carrying Davis Avenue across the Tygart Valley River is more than 70 years old. Recent inspections indicate that this bridge is in “poor” condition and will soon need repair or replacement, but there have been few options for securing the more than $4 million this would cost—until now. The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill includes funding for upgrading aging bridges, and City of Elkins officials are making the case to state decision makers that the Davis Avenue Bridge should be included on the list of approved projects.

Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco explains that the new law may enable Elkins to access federal bridge-repair funding that was not previously available to the city.

“The Davis Avenue Bridge is owned by the City of Elkins and isn’t on a state or federal route, so it is what the federal government calls ‘off-system,’” says Marco. “Traditionally, federal funds haven’t been available for off-system bridges. Even if we could have accessed that money, we would have needed to make a large local matching contribution of our own funds. That’s all been changed by the infrastructure act that just passed.”

In a departure from past federal practice, the new law authorizes federal funds to be used for repairing or replacing “off-system” bridges like the one on Davis Avenue. As an incentive for states to direct these funds to off-system bridges owned by a county, city, town or other local agency, there is also no local match requirement. FHA guidance indicates that this funding category can be used for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating such locally owned off-system bridges.

According to a press release from the Federal Highway Administration, West Virginia is slated to receive $101.3 million in Bridge Formula Program funding during fiscal year 2022 and a total of $506.7 million over the next five years, a portion of which may be used for off-system bridges. Elkins officials are monitoring news from Charleston about how these newly authorized federal funds will be apportioned among the 1,545 West Virginia bridges that, like the Davis Avenue Bridge, are currently rated in “poor” condition.

“We will be making our case to Charleston through official channels, but we will also be providing information to the public about how everyone can support this effort,” says Marco. “I ask that everyone keep an eye out for announcements as we learn more.”

As a first step in the process of drawing attention to the importance of this project, there will be a press conference at the Davis Avenue Bridge on Friday, February 11 at 3 p.m. The mayor and other elected officials, as well as city staff members, will be on hand to explain the bridge’s current condition and what repairs might be needed.

While the bridge needs repair or replacement in the next 5-10 years, the inspection reports that the city has received to date do not indicate any imminent risk of collapse or recommend immediate closure.

“When engineers say a bridge is in ‘poor’ condition, they are basically grading it a 4 on a scale that runs from zero to nine, so we’re right in the middle,” says Marco. “Obviously, there is room for a lot of improvement, but there is also no reason to panic about this bridge’s condition. If inspections had found that it was dangerous to continue using this bridge, we would have closed it already.”

City officials are making it a high priority to reach out to and educate state decision makers about the importance of this project to Elkins and Randolph County.

“We are really hoping that Elkins will be able to access Bridge Formula Program funds to repair or replace the Davis Avenue bridge, and we will do everything we can to make that happen,” says Marco. “Doing this work ourselves would be extremely expensive for Elkins residents, but being able to access these federal funds would enable us to keep this important route open through our downtown without impacting the many other services our community depends on.”

Public and Private Efforts Key to Ongoing Upswing in Elkins

As the Elkins council prepares to review progress on its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan at tonight’s meeting, officials are pleased with the amount of business activity and the levels of both private and public investment in Elkins over the last half decade.

Council’s strategic plan includes the following strategic focus areas: redevelopment and beautification of downtown Elkins; execution of a master facilities plan for city properties; improved communications; enhancement of governance and process protocols; and exploration of city boundary expansion opportunities. All these areas have seen significant progress since 2018, a period that has also seen considerable public and private investment in the city’s infrastructure, public spaces, and business development landscape.

“We know that many of the big steps forward Elkins has seen in the last few years are the result of decisions by private business owners and external agencies and organizations we don’t control,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “But given that the city has accomplished nearly 75 percent of the plan’s goals during a time period that has also seen significant business activity and investment, it looks like the plan is helping position the city as a proactive and flexible partner and remove some of the obstacles that might have existed in the past.”

Infrastructure and Facilities Projects

During 2021, City of Elkins completed a $4.3 million project to reduce sewage overflows to the Tygart Valley River by separating sewer and stormwater lines in South Elkins and built a modern, attractive parking lot behind city hall with more than 90 public parking spaces.

Other recent city projects include extensive modernization of the Elkins Police Department and, at the Phil Gainer Community Center, the installation of a generator, modern HVAC, new roof, new gym floor, and other improvements. Among other benefits, the center’s upgrades will greatly expand useability during hot weather, keep recreational users safer from injury, and enable use of the center as a temporary shelter during emergencies.

The approximately $3 million in federal ARPA funds received by the city is helping jumpstart some long-needed projects. Council has dedicated a significant share of these funds to making urgently needed upgrades to the water system and retaining an engineer to plan systematic replacement of the city’s aging underground water and sewer infrastructure. Extensive accessibility upgrades to city hall are also getting underway.

Dilapidated Properties

To protect property values and make Elkins even more attractive to new residents and businesses, the city has in recent years been working hard to address the problem of neglected and dilapidated properties. Council’s strategic plan included a goal of creating a fund for demolition of dilapidated structures, and the city budget now includes a standard annual line item of at least $50,000 for this purpose.

Since 2017, the city has demolished about a dozen such structures, at a total cost of more than $165,000. Some of these were the result of direct enforcement action by the city, and some were the result of negotiations between the city and the property owners.

Other demolitions were made possible by a first-of-its-kind partnership between the city and Woodlands Development Group, a federally certified Community Housing Development Organization that specializes in creating new and renovated housing for low- and middle-income workers and seniors. By partnering with WDG, City of Elkins became the first jurisdiction in West Virginia to access money for demolitions through the West Virginia Housing Development Fund’s Property Rescue Initiative, a revolving loan program for addressing blighted, dangerous properties.

Recreation and Beautification

At the same time that the city has been working to improve infrastructure and eliminate dangerous properties, public and private entities have been making progress toward two additional goals in council’s strategic plan, community beautification and expansion of recreation opportunities.

A sampling of beautification projects over the last approximately five years includes the installation of a green space with walking paths by Davis & Elkins College by Randolph Avenue; a mural painted on the wall of Mountain Valley Bank; the ongoing replacement of trees in the downtown, protected by distinctive, custom-made City of Elkins tree grates; and the various seasonal decoration programs facilitated by Our Town, including fall scarecrows, Christmas gnomes, and spring tulips, in addition to the annual downtown flowers program.

Elkins Main Street has plans to sponsor two additional murals on downtown businesses this year. The construction of the Rotary Pavilion at the RCDA’s Town Square property has enabled many additional public events and performances, including Our Town’s summer concert series and events hosted by the Mountain State Forest Festival and the Augusta Heritage Center.

New and expanded recreation opportunities implemented during the last few years include the extension of the Allegheny Highlands Trail to the Elkins Railyard, including a pedestrian and bike bridge across U.S. Rt. 219.

City of Elkins is currently in the process of selecting an engineering firm for a project to expand and improve the appearance and useability of the city’s riverfront.

Other ongoing work includes a working group of local, state, regional, and federal partners that is developing a master plan for trails in the Elkins area. This plan, which will use proven site selection methods to identify promising locations for both biking and hiking trails, will be used to obtain land-use agreements and secure funding for trail development.

Business Environment

As the city makes progress toward the goals in council’s strategic plan, certain data suggest a public perception that the business environment in Elkins is strong and supportive, including trends in sales-tax revenues, new business creation, and the expansion of existing businesses.

Sales Tax Revenues

Sales tax revenues have steadily increased since implementation of the city’s 1 percent sales tax in 2018. The first full year of sales tax revenues was 2019, when the city took in $1,136,178. That total increased 12 percent to $1,272,938 in 2020. Sales tax revenues for 2021 grew to $1,410,563, a nearly 11 percent increase over 2020 and an almost 25 percent increase since 2019.

This ongoing growth in sales tax revenues seems to indicate a strong business environment, especially given that pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions probably depressed economic activity relative to what it would have been in normal years.

New Business Formation

Also attesting to a strong business environment is the willingness of entrepreneurs to locate new businesses inside city limits. Elkins has seen significant new business formation in recent years, according to data published in the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Business Statistics Database.

Since 2017, 383 new businesses have been established in Elkins, for a net increase in actively licensed businesses of 34 percent during the period 2017-2021 (compared to 33 percent net growth in Randolph County overall during the same period). During the preceding five-year period 2012-2016, the net increase in businesses based in Elkins was considerably lower, at just under 3 percent.

Examples of newly opened businesses in Elkins during this period include Byrd’s Donuts, S&T Bees, Bar 1, Jimbo’s, TipTop, and The Common Door. In addition, the medical equipment manufacturer Saneso moved into the Wood Tech Building in the Elkins Industrial Park.

On the horizon is a $16 million project to transform the former Tygart Hotel into a boutique hotel serving the families, institutions, and burgeoning recreational tourism industry of the region. A projected 18-month construction project is scheduled to commence later this year.

In the last few months, the Randolph County Development Authority (RCDA) has been laying the groundwork for even more new business creation. In 2021, RCDA purchased a section of the former Oddfellows property that abuts the Elkins Industrial Park. The authority plans to request annexation of this property by Elkins for the purpose of expanding the city’s current industrial park. RCDA is also moving forward with plans for the development of the Elkins Railyard by hiring an engineer to design an event center and multi-tenant commercial building for the site.

Expansion of Existing Businesses

Many of the city’s existing businesses continue to express confidence in the local business environment by expanding and further developing their offerings and facilities in Elkins.

Davis Medical Center recently announced its adoption of a 10-year master facilities plan that will see the institution make multi-million-dollar investments in expanding DMC operations and capabilities, including a new women’s and children’s health center. As a first step, DMC just opened a new “healthy foods” market to address food insecurity and better support medically prescribed diets.

Big Timber Brewing has expanded its production facilities by purchasing and renovating the former DOH garage on Randolph Avenue. Citizens Bank constructed a new drive-through facility and parking area adjacent to its main branch, on Third Street.

Additional businesses making significant expansions to their operations in the last several years include Super Car Wash, on Eleventh Street; the Holiday Inn Express, in the Elkins Railyard; and the Delmonte Market, which was itself a new business just a few years ago and recently opened a second floor of retail offerings to the public.

Sutton says council is pleased to see what seems like a synergistic and collaborative relationship between the city and its public and private stakeholders.

“With our progress toward council’s strategic goals and all of the strong business activity and other improvements occurring out in the community, it really feels like everyone is on the same page and pitching in to get Elkins where it needs to go,” she says. “Again, we know the city can’t take credit for the decisions of so many private business owners and outside organizations, but it’s good to see evidence that the city is reducing and eliminating barriers to starting, operating, and even expanding successful businesses in Elkins.”

Applications for ARPA Funds Due Feb. 28

Council has allotted $154,000 for community-based projects

Elkins, W. Va., January 28, 2022: City of Elkins has been awarded $3.08 million under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Among other allocations of these funds, council has allotted five percent (approximately $154,000) to be used for eligible community-based requests. Community organizations interested in proposing projects that may qualify for these funds can do so via an online form. Applications are due by 4 p.m. on February 28, 2022.

Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton advises that all uses of ARPA funds are heavily regulated.

“Any organizations thinking of applying to use ARPA funds need to keep in mind that this is a much more formal process than requesting contributions from the city’s general fund,” says Sutton. “The ARPA rules do allow the city to disburse some of these funds to community organizations, but they are considered subrecipients under the legislation. They must follow all of the same documentation requirements and are subject to the same audits as the city. If auditors find that a project was not eligible for ARPA funds, the federal government can require repayment.”

The online form requires applicants to describe their proposed projects in as much detail as possible. Applicants must also explain why their proposed projects constitute an appropriate use of ARPA funds; what demographic their projects will target; and estimated costs. Finally, applicants are also asked to connect their projects to goals in the city’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, if possible. The strategic plan may be reviewed here: www.bit.ly/Elkins-Strategic-Plan.

Find the online application form here: http://forms.gle/Mweq4EPxifLeo3xK8.

 

Addiction Task Force Seeks Volunteer Peer Recovery Specialists

Elkins, W. Va., December 3, 2021: The Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force is looking for volunteers to assist community members who need help recovering from addiction. More information about this opportunity and the work of the task force in general will be available at a public forum scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. on December 14 at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

The Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force, which started working last spring to identify effective strategies for addressing these issues in the Elkins area, includes Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco, Randolph County Sheriff Rob Elbon, and City Councilor Dave Parker (Fifth Ward).

One strategy the task force identified is peer-supported recovery, in which people who are already in recovery are trained to help others access the services and support necessary for their own long-term recovery. These people are known as peer recovery support specialists, and the task force is seeking volunteers interested in serving in this role.

Candidates need a high school diploma/GED. They must have been in recovery for at least two years and not have received treatment for a substance use disorder in the previous six months, except for medication assisted treatment (e.g., opioid dependency medications such as buprenorphine).

Volunteers who are selected by the task force will receive training and work toward the PRSS certification issued by the West Virginia DHHR. Initial training includes first aid, CPR, and naloxone administration.

Once trained, specialists would work in teams of two, in coordination with emergency health services, law enforcement, the court system, treatment and recovery programs, and harm reduction programs. These teams will primarily respond with medics or law enforcement to the scenes of overdoses or other substance-abuse related situations. They might also talk with people who have been hospitalized for substance use disorder or collaborate with mental health providers who help people recover from addiction.

Although these positions are unpaid, the task force is exploring grant funding and other options to provide long-term stability to this program. Initial training and related costs will be covered by ARPA funds the task force has requested from City of Elkins.

Markie Jeffries, who is already a certified peer recovery support specialist with Appalachian Community Health Center, will lead the program and supervise the volunteers. According to Jeffries, these specialists play a crucial role in the community response to addiction.

“Because of the stigma so many people place on addiction, it can be hard for people who need help to open up to someone in law enforcement or health care,” Jeffries says. “When I tell people my backstory and they see I’ve been in the exact same situation they’re in, they start opening up.”

Jeffries’s backstory includes an opioid addiction that grew out of what was at first only “social” use but eventually led to overdose and incarceration. She has been in recovery since 2017.

In addition to the satisfaction of helping others, working as a peer recovery support specialist has helped Jeffries in her own recovery.

“Doing this work helps keep me humble,” she says. “Throughout my recovery, I was so appreciative of the people who helped me, and I always hoped I could pay that forward by helping others. People suffering from addiction often feel there is no hope for them, and I’m able to show them that’s not true, there is hope for everyone—just look at me. It’s very rewarding work.”

Updated: Council Focuses on Infrastructure for ARPA funds

Last modified on November 11th, 2021 at 06:16 am

5 Percent Reserved for Qualifying Community-Proposed Projects

Elkins, W. Va., October 11, 2021: The Elkins council is prioritizing infrastructure and physical plant projects as it decides how to spend the $3 million the city is receiving under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). With decisions made at last week’s meeting and its meeting of August 19, council has now allocated 47 percent of the total disbursement, with a large share already reserved for long overdue repairs and upgrades to the city’s water system.

One of last week’s council actions also reserved funds for an engineering assessment to prioritize additional pressing water and sewer projects. According to Mayor Jerry Marco, the city’s infrastructure needs greatly exceed the $3 million ARPA disbursement. As a result, he says, the city doesn’t have the luxury of using much of this money for non-essential work.

“It would be wonderful if we could use ARPA money for a bunch of new facilities and programs and really build out what we’re currently providing to the people of Elkins,” says Marco. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of deferred maintenance and other really urgent work that it would be irresponsible to postpone.”

Federal rules state that ARPA funds may be used in four broad categories: to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts; to provide premium pay to workers performing essential work during the public health emergency; to replace lost public sector revenues; and to make investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.

Council’s Initial ARPA Decisions

An online survey that was available in late summer found public support for using ARPA funds to address infrastructure needs. Although an opt-in survey of this kind cannot be considered representative of the population at large, 62 percent of the 232 respondents said they would rather see the city use its ARPA disbursement to make “investments in critical infrastructure.” Only 38 percent supported using ARPA funds for responding to the public health emergency or otherwise directly addressing the effects of the pandemic.

To date, council has decided to spend around $650,000 in ARPA funds on equipment and initial supplies needed to replace decrepit water lines and correct deficiencies that have been identified at the water treatment plant.

Another $450,000 is reserved for city hall projects that will be planned in coordination with council’s Municipal Properties Committee. Likely projects include the installation of a generator to provide power for the police department and other essential city services during emergencies, as well as making the century-old building more accessible for all citizens, such as by installing an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp and an elevator approved for passenger use.

At last week’s meeting, council decided to reserve 5 percent of the total ARPA disbursement for projects proposed by community organizations which fall into approved expenditure categories. Council also allocated $5,000 to the mayor’s Addiction and Homelessness Task Force for the purpose of training peer recovery coaches to assist persons with substance abuse disorder in seeking treatment. Two additional approved expenditures were $10,000 for a website redesign to improve accessibility and reliability and $21,350 for deployment and the first three years’ cost of a software platform to enable automated subscriptions, notifications, and online access to council and committee agendas, meeting minutes, and packets for the public.

These decisions were based on the recommendations of council’s ad hoc ARPA Advisory Committee, which was formed in June, soon after the announcement that Elkins would be receiving $3 million in ARPA Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF). Since June, the committee has been studying U.S. Department of the Treasury rules governing the use of these funds and analyzing suggestions and requests from city staff and the public to determine the most urgent eligible projects.

ARPA Ambiguities

One issue the committee has been grappling with is the fact that there are ambiguities concerning what projects can be paid for using ARPA funds. Certain types of projects are explicitly allowed under the published rules, such as investments in and improvements to existing water and sewer infrastructure. Other sections of the rules are less specific, however, and there is no state or federal process for obtaining advance approvals or authoritative advice.

“Cities and counties across the nation are having to do their best to interpret these rules on their own,” says Elkins City Clerk Jessica Sutton. “It’s pretty clear that the water and sewer improvements that the committee is looking at are going to be allowed, but some of the rest of the rules are more open to interpretation. We’re just going to have to do our best to get as close as possible to the intent of the language, but it is possible that some of our proposed projects could be determined ineligible during a later audit.”

For this reason, community organizations interested in applying for portions of the 5 percent council reserved for them will be asked to explain how their proposed projects fit into the federal guidelines. They will also be expected to provide detailed written budgets and other documentation as appropriate to their proposals.

“Any organizations thinking of applying to use ARPA funds need to keep in mind that this is a much more formal process than requesting contributions from the city’s general fund,” says Sutton. “The ARPA rules do allow the city to disburse some of these funds to community organizations, but they are considered subrecipients under the legislation and must follow all of the same documentation requirements and potentially be subject to the same audits as the city.”

First Bite of the Elephant

“As I said earlier this year, $3 million may sound like a lot of money but, with the high cost and competition for materials resulting from ARPA funds going out nationwide, it’s just not going to go as far as it would have a few years ago,” says Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco. “That is why I have cautioned council and citizens to taper their expectations regarding this funding.”

The mayor gave examples of just a few of the many projects the ARPA Advisory Committee is considering.

“We have a $35 million state-of-the-art water plant up on the hill, but we’re pushing water out through 100-year-old lines,” he says. “We have bridges that are in desperate need of attention. City hall is not ADA compliant. To top it all off, it’s recently been brought to our attention that the flood control system is going to need some work as well.”

Many of the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs were not brought to the attention of elected officials until late summer, according to the mayor.

“The existence of these problems is not exactly a surprise, but the magnitude of it all is only just now coming to light,” says Marco. “We can’t give an exact bottom line on all of it, but safe to say we’re looking at tens and tens of millions of dollars of urgent infrastructure work needed in the near term.”

Addressing all of these problems will carry a price tag greatly exceeding the city’s ARPA disbursement, but what that price tag is won’t be clear until after the engineering assessment council authorized last week, as well as further research and analysis by city staff.

“The remaining 53 percent of the ARPA funds we haven’t allocated yet will help us address some of this, but it’s just the first bite of the elephant,” says Marco. “We are actively seeking other funding sources as well, and of course we are following negotiations about the infrastructure bills in D.C. closely. These are problems we can solve, and we have a good team working on them, but it’s going to take time and work and it’s not all going to be paid for with free money from the federal government.”

ARPA funds are being distributed in two equal disbursements, half in 2021 and half in 2022; the city received its initial tranche of ARPA funds this summer. ARPA funds cannot be used to cover expenditures made prior to March 3, 2021. Funds must be obligated no later than December 31, 2024, and expenditures to cover those obligations must occur no later than December 31, 2026.

For more about City of Elkins planning concerning ARPA funds, including a link to the results of the online survey, visit our website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/arpa-funds.

City of Elkins Tree Board Announces Friends of Trees Program

Last modified on October 12th, 2021 at 04:19 pm

Date: October 5, 2021

Contact: Marilynn Cuonzo, Chair, Elkins Tree Board mcuonzo@cityofelkinswv.com

ELKINS-The City of Elkins Tree Board has recently reinvigorated the Friends of Trees (FOT) program which is made up of volunteers who support tree planting and greenspace projects throughout the city. Former tree board member Katy McClane, who has been active in many beautification projects associated with the WVU Master Gardener program, Emma Scott Garden Club and Elkins Main Street, serves as coordinator of this program.

Recently, FOT members assisted in cleaning up the gardens in front of City Hall and in the Darden Gardens. Future plans include tree plantings at the Kump House, tree nursery maintenance and other projects that will enhance the overall urban forest in Elkins.

“We encourage everyone to get involved,” McClane said. “There are hands-on projects as well as more research-based projects that volunteers could assist with. Everything can make a difference.”

The next Friends of Trees volunteer day is set for Saturday, October 23 beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Kump House across the street from Kroger’s on Randolph Ave. The project includes tree plantings and deer fence installation.

For more information on the Friends of Trees program or you would like to become a member, email Katy McClane: katy.mcclane@gmail.com. Friends of Trees also offers various workshops throughout the year and, those interested are encouraged to visit the Elkins Friends of Trees Facebook page. The Elkins Tree Board meets the first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden House adjacent to City Hall. The public is welcome to attend.

PHOTO CUTLINE: AmeriCorps member Haley Shreve (left) and Friends of Trees volunteer Paula Heinke work hard on beautifying the gardens in front of City Hall on a recent volunteer day.

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