Elkins City Hall Closed Tuesday, March 17

Elkins City Hall is closed Tuesday, March 17, and all non-essential city employees are excused. Essential employees must still report for work. During the day Tuesday, officials will evaluate whether to reopen city hall to the public on Wednesday or whether to implement modified procedures to reduce risk of coronavirus transmission. (Utility bills may be paid online or via the drop box behind city hall.)

This closure is the result of a policy adopted by Elkins city council several years ago–a policy triggered today by Governor Jim Justice’s declaration of a state of emergency for West Virginia and its 55 counties.

“For a number of years, City of Elkins has had a policy of closing in response to a declaration of a countywide emergency,” says Jessica Sutton, the Elkins city clerk. “This policy was clearly created with weather emergencies or perhaps catastrophic events in mind–situations when it both might not be possible for employees to travel to work safely and there might be difficulties calling them directly.”

Sutton acknowledges that the policy needs revisiting.

“Obviously, this policy is not a good fit for the kind of situation we face with coronavirus and the governor’s declaration,” says Sutton. “It’s easy to imagine that the governor’s state of emergency might be in place for quite some time. One good thing is that it does give us the opportunity to carefully consider how we can keep employees and the public as safe as possible from coronavirus.”

Thursday’s council agenda includes an item to consider updates to this policy.

Coronavirus Response for Businesses and Event Planners

Monday, March 16, 2020
4:15 p.m.

According to West Virginia DHHR, there are still no confirmed coronavirus cases in West Virginia.

At a press conference this afternoon, Governor Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for West Virginia and all 55 West Virginia counties. Barring additional orders from the governor, a state of emergency does not impose any mandatory restrictions on private businesses or on county or city governments.

However, in the words of the governor, “let’s err to the safe side.” The City of Elkins suggests that area residents and business owners consider some of the ideas in the following list.

These are not orders in Elkins or West Virginia, but some of these steps have been ordered in states and cities across the country. Because of the possibility that such orders may be issued in West Virginia at some point, it may be helpful for everyone to give some thought to how they might be able to comply, and to consider whether it might make sense to take some of these steps now, voluntarily.

Please continue monitoring this channel and the news media for updates. This is a fluid situation and may change quickly.

  • The CDC recommends canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 or more people, including church services, sporting events, social occasions, etc. Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.
  • Businesses can limit entrance to their stores to minimize the number of people present at any one time.
  • Businesses with drive-through facilities can close their dining rooms and lobbies to the public, limiting customer service to drive-through only.
  • Restaurants can restrict service to carry-out only (some at curbside).
  • Businesses can follow the lead of all federal and state government agencies by eliminating non-essential travel.
  • Businesses can implement flexible remote work policies and, where this is not possible, reduce staffing levels present at any one time. (Keep in mind that many parents now have no childcare options other than remaining at home themselves.)
  • Businesses can institute temporary exceptions to current sick-leave policies. (If an employee tests positive for coronavirus, the current medical recommendation will be for the person to remain quarantined at home for two weeks—if they are not hospitalized.)

Thank you for considering these ideas. For more information about workplace, community, and home preparedness for coronavirus, please visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and coronavirus.wv.gov.

City Hall News: March 16-20, 2020

Elkins W. Va., March 14, 2020: Monday sees the regular meeting of the Elkins Sanitary Board at 3:15 p.m. The sanitary board oversees the city’s wastewater (i.e., sewage) collection system and treatment plant. At this week’s meeting, the board will hear an update on the upcoming Phase II Sewer Project and review invoices and financial statements. The Phase II Sewer Project is the final component of a 2012 consent decree between Elkins and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, requiring the city to install separate stormwater lines in certain parts of the city to reduce sewage overflows to the river during heavy rain events.

Administrative officers and council’s Finance Committee continue work on the budget for fiscal year 2021 this week. After administrative officers finetune their requests and recommendations Monday, the committee meets in special session on Tuesday at 9 a.m. for further budget discussions.

The Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Darden House (next door to city hall). Council’s Municipal Properties Committee meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Later that same day, at 5 p.m., the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission meets at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

The agenda for Thursday’s council meeting will not be finalized until Tuesday, when—in addition to being posted in the city hall lobby and in the kiosk on Davis Avenue—it will also be uploaded to the city website. Agenda items submitted so far include a request from the fire department for permission to apply for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from FEMA (to fund new firefighter positions) and the proposed reappointment of the city attorney.

All council and committee meetings are open to the public and, unless otherwise stated, held at city hall (401 Davis Avenue). More information: www.cityofelkinswv.com.

“Social Distancing” Bill Payment Options

In response to the coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak, one strategy recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is “social distancing,” or avoiding unnecessary contact with other people.

Instead of paying your utility bill in person, keep in mind that we offer online bill payment (at no additional charge).

You can also drop your payment in the box behind city hall.


Utility bill higher than usual?

If you’ve noticed a higher total on your utility bill this month, it’s because of a sewer-rate increase that just went into effect. The amount raised by this increase is paying for a $4.3 million sewer project scheduled for this year. (In case you didn’t know, your sewer usage is charged based on your water usage.)

The purpose of this project, known as the Phase II Sewer Project, is to reduce sewage discharges into the river during heavy rain events. These discharges happen because Elkins stormwater and sewage have traditionally been carried in the same system of pipes, which can overflow during heavy rains. The Phase II Sewer Project will install several new dedicated stormwater lines to reduce the occurrence of such overflows. This project is proceeding under a federal consent decree between Elkins and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There is no other source for this money. Under state law, sewer and other utilities must be run as standalone businesses. Their only source of funding comes from the rates paid by their customers. In other words, sewer projects like this one can only be paid for by raising sewer rates (and especially not with sales tax proceeds).

What’s with the “E” on my water bill?

If you see an “E” next to the number in the “present” column of your water bill, you are looking at an “estimated reading.”

The water meters in use here in Elkins have built-in transmitters that are supposed to automatically send water usage information to our water utility’s billing department. However, as you may have heard, our remote-read water meters are getting old. About 600 of them no longer have working transmitters, and we are working on a project to replace them later this year. (More on that below.)

Again, all that is broken are the transmitters–these meters still record usage information accurately. However, we don’t have the workforce to read that many meters manually every month. Instead, several readings in a row may have to be estimated, based on the average of the most recent 12 remote-read months. (In that case, you’ll see an “E” on your bill.) Then, when a manual reading is taken, the actual cumulative total usage is recorded and billed (which corrects for any under- or over-estimation).

The city plans to replace our current remote-read water meters but cannot yet announce a date when this project will be complete. Several steps are still pending, including project approval from the USDA (the source of the money, which comes from unexpended water-plant construction funds), open bidding for a contractor to complete the project, and custom coding of a module in our billing software for importing usage data from the new meters. This project is estimated to cost $1.2 million.

We’ll update you as soon as this project gets rolling and we can firm up the projected completion date.

Disclaimers and fine print: We can only pay for new water meters with funds from the water utility—in this case, those funds left over after completion of the water-plant construction project. Those leftover funds, in turn, can’t be used for anything but water system projects. If we returned that leftover money to the lender, it wouldn’t lower water rates, and then we’d need a new loan (and a new water-rate increase) to fund replacing the water meters. Replacing the water meters this way will not require a rate increase (but remember, we are still awaiting USDA approval to use the money this way).

Did the city really spend $45,000 on downtown flowers?

Did the city really spend $45,000 on downtown flowers? (more…)

Open Letter About the Swinging Bridge: Context, History, and Options

Friday afternoon, Mayor Broughton delivered the following letter to residents of Chestnut and Dowell streets who requested information about the city’s plans for the swinging bridge. It is published here to provide more information about the history and realistic options for replacing the bridge.

Thank you for your letters of 31 December and 27 January raising questions about the swinging bridge that formerly spanned the Tygart Valley River between the Elkins Railyard and your neighborhood.

Your questions relate to the bridge’s history; responsibility for maintenance of the bridge; reasons for its closure; the current status of grant awards for bridge repair or replacement; and reasons why other expenditures have been prioritized over a project to replace this bridge.

Below, we have provided the best answers we have to your questions, along with some additional context and history that we hope will be helpful to the ongoing public conversation about the bridge.  (more…)

Swinging Bridge Q&A with Mayor Broughton

Q: Does the city have $2 million it “doesn’t know what to do with?”

A: I wish! Because of careful spending, we do have $2 million left from the $37 million in loans for the water plant project. That $2 million would increase our General Fund budget by about a third—if we were allowed to use it that way. But state law says we’re only allowed to use it for the water system. One thing we for sure can’t use it for is the swinging bridge.  (more…)

Update on Dent Street Shooting

Statement from EPD Chief T.C. Bennett
Date: February 21, 2020
Date: 1046

On February 20, 2020, at approximately 6:24 pm, officers of the Elkins Police Department responded to a house located at 11 Dent Street in Elkins in reference to a shooting.

The location of the incident was in close proximity to the Davis Medical Center, which prompted a lockdown of that facility. Upon arrival, officers secured the scene and learned that one male subject had suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound. The victim was treated at Davis Medical Center and subsequently transferred to Ruby Memorial Hospital for further treatment. Officers obtained a search warrant for the crime scene in order to collect evidence pertaining to the incident.

Investigators have been conducting interviews of witnesses and are currently attempting to locate others believed to have knowledge of the incident. A vehicle believed to be involved with this incident was recovered by the West Virginia State Police in Pocahontas County. This is an ongoing investigation. Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact the Elkins Police Department at (304) 636-0678 or by dialing 911.

I would like to thank the Randolph County Sheriff’s Department, the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department, and the Elkins, Marlinton, and Morgantown detachments of the West Virginia State Police for their assistance with this investigation.

T.C. Bennett
Chief of Police

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