Addiction Task Force Seeking Building for Services Hub

The mayor’s ad hoc Addiction and Homelessness Task Force provides the following update:

As reported at our recent public forum, one of the task force’s top goals is to create for Elkins a social services hub, similar to the Hazel House of Hope in Morgantown.

Hazel House, located in a former Ramada Inn, was founded with a vision of bringing together many different service providers in one location, to better assist clients struggling with addiction and homelessness. The Morgantown center is already providing feeding, warming, and shelter services, with a long-term goal of also providing a “sobering center” and assistance with obtaining vital records, applying for benefits, and addressing other obstacles to stable employment and housing.

Here in Elkins, the task force is in the exploratory stage of identifying possible locations for such a facility. Our vision is similar to the vision behind Hazel House, although it is too early in the process to say with certainty exactly what services we will be able to offer. The location, size, amenities, and physical structure of the building we ultimately select will play a large role in determining what will be possible. We are hopeful that we will be able to secure a building that will enable us to provide the most vitally needed services not only for Elkins but for neighboring communities as well.

We are currently evaluating four promising sites. We are also working with our community partners to determine what grants, loans, or other financial options would be available to purchase and renovate any one of these locations.  We expect to start submitting funding requests in the first quarter of 2022.

We are committed to keeping the community informed about our progress.  We sincerely appreciate the community showing up and voicing their comments at our public meeting on December 14th.

EFD Statement About Central St. Fire

Statement from EFD Chief Steve Himes:

Elkins Fire Department responded around 11 p.m. Monday night to a fire in a home on West Central Street in Elkins.

The fire, which appeared to have been started intentionally, resulted in one fatality. Another person was transported to Davis Medical Center with non-fire-related injuries. The Office of the State Fire Marshal has completed its on-scene investigation. We are awaiting official identification of the decedent and cause of death.

The first EFD units were on the scene within four minutes of the initial 911 call. Including personnel from Beverly Fire Department, 27 firefighters responded to this incident. Elkins Police Department and Randolph County EMS also assisted on scene.

The fire is estimated to have caused about $85,000 in damage.

City Hall News: Weeks of Dec. 20 & Dec. 27

Elkins, W. Va., December 18, 2021: Because of the holidays, the next two weeks won’t see much meeting activity at Elkins City Hall. Meeting the week of December 20 are the Elkins Sanitary Board and the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission. The Elkins Water Board meets the following week.

There are no changes to the trash schedule on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. City hall will close for Christmas starting noon on Thursday. The following week, city hall will close for New Year’s starting noon on Thursday.

The Sanitary Board, which oversees the city’s sewer system, meets Monday at 2 p.m. The board, which is in the process of identifying a replacement for its vacuum truck, will see a presentation concerning Golden Equipment Company offerings in this category. The board will also review invoices and discuss proposed sewer improvements on Sylvester Drive, department staffing levels and wages, and catch basins and storm lines.

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Historic Landmarks Commission meets virtually on an agenda that includes an update concerning Maplewood Cemetery and discussion of a second Davis & Elkins Historic District. The commission will also elect officers. Request login information by email to: ehlc@historicelkins.org.

The following week, on Tuesday the 28th at 4 p.m., the Water Board meets. The agenda for this meeting is not yet posted.

Utility bills and in-city Fire & Rescue Service Fee payments are due Monday, December 20. Fourth quarter and annual Business & Occupation tax-return forms will be mailed out the last week of December; returns will be due January 31.

Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in-person and open to the public. Find agendas and other meeting information here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-and-committee-meetings.

Targeting South Elkins Water Problems

New Valves, Better Advance Warning

Elkins, W. Va., December 18, 2021: Elkins Water Board employees are installing new valves and implementing additional notification practices in response to the recent spike in water-main breaks and service interruptions in South Elkins. The purpose of these steps is to reduce the size of the area affected by outages and to provide residents with at least one hour’s warning before most outages.

This year’s huge increase in water-main breaks in South Elkins is the result of a perfect storm of problems both old and new: Corroded cast-iron water pipes long past end of life; exceptionally soft, unstable soil; and further destabilization of that soil by the extensive excavation work for this year’s sewer/stormwater separation project.

A Shortage of Valves

The 19 water outages that have occurred in South Elkins so far during 2021 would be bad enough on their own, but there is an additional factor making them even more painful for the area’s residents: the small number of functioning valves in that section of the water system.

“Past generations weren’t as systematic about installing valves throughout the system as current standards would require,” says Wes Lambert, chief operator of the Elkins water system. “Then too, many of the valves that are in the ground today were put there decades ago and have started to fail.”

Lambert says that the shortage of valves results in water outages across much wider areas than he would prefer.

“Because of how few working valves we have, we try to avoid turning off water to repair leaks, but sometimes there is no way around it,” he explains. “With as few working valves as there are in that part of town, oftentimes we end up being forced to shut off water for most of South Elkins.”

To address the problem of needlessly widespread water outages, Lambert has ordered the installation of five new valves in key locations throughout South Elkins over the next two months. Lambert also has a plan to avoid the outages that would typically be required during the traditional process of valve installation.

“We are doing these as insertion valves,” says Lambert. “That’s a technique where the valve is able to be installed on a live water line without the need to shut the water off.”

Lambert chose this method to avoid causing additional undue burden on the neighborhood’s water customers.

“Insertion valves do end up costing about 30-40 percent more,” he says. “But given the availability of ARPA funds and just how much pain customers in that area have been going through, it seems like a very worthwhile use of the money. These new valves won’t reduce the number of water-line breaks, unfortunately, but they should reduce the need to shut water off across such a wide area every time one does.”

Reducing the number of water-main breaks will require widespread replacement of the failing lines, a project that will likely take the better part of a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars. As a first step in that direction, council recently dedicated a share of the city’s ARPA funds allotment to retaining an engineering firm to formulate a plan for this project. Read more about council’s prioritization of ARPA funds for infrastructure projects here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-focuses-on-infrastructure-for-arpa-funds.

Advance Warning of Water Outages

Lambert has also instituted a new procedure under which the city will provide advance warning before a water outage occurs in most cases.

“We can’t predict when a pipe will spring a leak, but we can almost always get the word out that we are investigating a leak at least an hour before we actually turn the water off,” he says. “There could be exceptions, such as if a truck takes out a hydrant and someone’s basement is being flooded. But in most cases, we can provide at least an hour’s warning and usually a few hours.”

The purpose of this warning is to allow residents to fill bathtubs, finish showers, and make other preparations for a period of low or no water pressure until repairs are complete.

To receive these warnings via text message, customers must sign up for City of Elkins Nixle alerts.

The city’s Nixle alerts, which always begin with the word “Elkins,” are sent by city personnel over the Randolph County OEM Nixle system. Customers who already receive countywide Nixle alerts will still need to sign up separately to receive City of Elkins alerts.

The signup page to receive City of Elkins Nixle alerts is here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/emergency-text-notifications.

Customers needing assistance signing up for this service should email the Office of External Affairs: sstokes@cityofelkinswv.com.

More information about the city’s water system is available here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/living/public-service-utilities/elkins-water-board.

Updated: Boil Water on Ward Avenue Lifted

Update as of Dec. 18, 8 a.m.: The Ward Avenue Boil Water Notice has been lifted. Lab testing found no contamination.

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Update as of 12/17,  9 a.m.: Repairs are complete. A sample is being submitted for independent lab testing this morning. Earliest results will be available morning of 12/18.

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Water Service Interruption South of Sixteenth Street

As a result of loss of pressure on a water main during repair of a leak, a Boil Water Notice has been issued for water customers on Ward Avenue in First Ward. The earliest update concerning this notice will be on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 18.

During repairs, water customers in South Elkins south of Sixteenth Street will experience low or no water pressure, but the Boil Water Notice only affects Ward Avenue.

Boil Water Notices are issued out of an abundance of caution because positive pressure has been lost and the possibility of contamination exists, not because contamination has been detected. The presence or absence of contamination must be confirmed by an independent lab through a testing process that requires at least 24 hours after delivery of a sample. Samples cannot be taken until the leak has been repaired and service has been restored. Samples can only be submitted during business hours. For more information about what to do under a Boil Water Notice, click here.

Notification will be sent out when the Boil Water Notice is lifted. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and appreciate your patience during this time.

To keep up to date on these and similar announcements, please follow the following channels:

Homelessness & Addiction Task Force Report

Below is the first report from the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness and Addiction Resources. Learn more about the task force’s effort to recruit Peer Recovery Support Specialists here.

MAYOR’S TASK FORCE PRESENTATION

12/14/21

What We’ve Been Doing

On May 17 of this year the Mayor’s Task Force on Substance Abuse and Homelessness met for the first time. The core group forming the Task Force was selected by Mayor Marco. In that group we have the Mayor, Sheriff Elbon, EPD Chief Bennett, Jennifer Griggs from RCHA, Councilor Dave Parker, and Melissa Kisner from DM (who has had to temporarily withdraw because of a new work assignment), and Markie Jeffries from the Jobs to Hope program.

The Task Force is following up on the work begun by a group of citizens and representatives of community groups prior to the onset of the Covid outbreak and the disruption that it’s caused. We have worked to identify all of the community organizations that are engaged in missions to address homelessness, substance abuse, and the needs for clothing, food, and medical care. We have gathered this larger group multiple times to assess community resources, understand community needs and identify the significant gaps that may exist in the delivery of critical resources to people in our community who lives are in distress. We remain in discussions to find ways forward in the delivery of services and to do so in an organized, efficient, and effective manner. We are encouraging our community partners to be clear about their core mission and to work with the other partners to minimize duplication and to work to their respective organizational strengths. After each large group meeting, which usually numbers 20 or more participants, the core group meets to process and work through the information shared and ideas offered.

Priorities We’ve Identified

The Task Force has identified a number of actions that we believe to be high priority.

First, establishing safe, clean, sober living space for women and women with children who are focused on the journey of recovery. This is a resource we do not have in our community.

Second, we are looking to engage with men and women who have been working on their own recovery for several years to train and become certified as Peer Recovery Support Specialists. The PRSSs are essential frontline people in working with men and women who are living with addiction and guiding them to needed resources, whether recovery related, food, medical care or shelter. They work as advocates for people who are struggling. These men and women are screened for suitability, trained, and certified by the State of West Virginia. They work under the umbrella of an existing medical practice and with supervision.  If we are able to set this up correctly, they will most often be compensated under Medicaid. In some situations their work will have to be grant funded.

Third, we do not have “beds” for people seeking to be in recovery and in need of detox care and initial recovery care and support. These men and women are often in crisis and that may be the moment when they are most receptive to beginning the journey to recovery. It is one of our top goals to have these services and a facility to house them located in our community. People seeking this level of care often experience unacceptable delays and must travel several hours away to find a bed in a system that is already crowded. We intend to work toward bringing this level of mental health services to our community. Toward that end we are preliminarily engaged in conversation with two medical institutions to explore the feasibility of this element of our plans.

Fourth, we know there is an immediate need for a warming shelter to operate through the winter months in Elkins.  Our homeless shelter is often at capacity, in addition to which, we have a segment of our homeless population that simply don’t meet the guidelines for our present shelter. In no way is this a criticism of the shelter or its operation. It’s just a dimension of a difficult problem. We have been offered a suitable building for a warming shelter by Woodlands Development Group. It is going to require renovation of the downstairs bathroom and a general cleaning and fresh paint. In addition, a modest budget for gas and electricity must be established. Staffing is going to be the most significant challenge we face in opening a warming shelter. We are thinking that it is most likely that a warming shelter will not be able to open before next winter. Nonetheless, the need will not be magically met by the kindness of our thoughts.

Laying the groundwork

Beyond meeting as the core group and with the larger community-based group, we have met with the leadership team of the PRSS initiative in Morgantown to understand the nuts and bolts of developing and maintaining a parallel program here. We have budget commitments sufficient to screen, train, and attain certification for our PRSS teams.

Members of our team made the trip to Hazel’s House in Morgantown to meet with their leadership team who have put together at the old Ramada Inn, located at I 68 and route 119 in Morgantown, a facility that combines in one place the entire array of supports and services that are needed to begin to meet the needs of people living in a very fragile condition. Jonathan Board, who is the point person for the Hazel’s House project, has been to Elkins to meet with us and to visit a potential site for a similar facility in Elkins. He is prepared to continue to work with us to develop both the plan for the facility and the facility itself. Hazel’s House has ties to both WVU Medicine and Mon General Hospital. We will be engaging with them as we work to deliver what is needed here.

We have met with Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington and the team that has coalesced around the extreme need to address substance abuse and homelessness in that city.  We met with 15 or 16 key leaders/team members, each of whom has a specialty that has been and remains critical to the overall effort going on in the city. We visited 5 different program facilities addressing feeding, recovery, homelessness, the need for clothing, and the need for medical care. The members of the Huntington team have offered to meet with us here to flesh out action steps necessary to success, including securing funding. Their first visit is scheduled for just after the holidays.

In every case, the people with whom our team has met have proven to be very skilled and accomplished in their respective areas of activity. They are as committed and persevering as they are skillful and smart. Their offers to walk this walk with us are genuine and invaluable and we will take full advantage of them. We hold these folks in high regard.

Having laid out a bare bones outline of our work to date and the immediate outreach priorities, we are engaged in more long-term activities as well. We are exploring the feasibility of acquiring a particular building in town into which we can efficiently gather all of the necessary services our city offers, as well as some new resources, under one roof. It would be our adaptation of the Hazel’s House model, deeply informed by the Huntington model, just not dispersed around the city as the organizations in Huntington are.

This undertaking will obviously require a very careful business plan that takes into account every detail from the idea stage until a number of years after the facility and the team organizations working in it have established their presence and practices. Also, we believe that for maximum benefit to be realized, and for the sake of sustainability, this must be a regional initiative. And this takes us into the next part of this report.

We are aware that homelessness has multiple causes: ordinary bad luck, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, simply not knowing how to do more than scratch to get by in life. The same is true for substance abuse. The drivers can be several and complex. Therefore, we are committed to working toward a significant improvement in the general mental health supports offered in our community and a significant improvement in supports for intervention, detox, recovery and the multiple services required for people to put their lives together. Because Elkins is a regional commercial, tourism, medical, financial, and population center, we draw people from a wide region, including those who lives may be very broken. The people are already here, offering healing will not increase those numbers. The people have already come, in all sorts and conditions.

To understand the complex financial puzzle that must be solved, consider this: In the Inter-Mountain of December 9, there is an article about CPS being at the meltdown point. Thirty-plus percent of births in WV right now are babies who are born addicted or who are exposed to very problematic drugs while in the womb. The cost of treating each one of these children until they reach adulthood $2 million. We cannot afford to not enter into this work – knowing that it will require great patience, perseverance, and investment. Davis Memorial has one physician who is working with expectant mothers in an effort to minimize the harm caused to babies by substance abuse. In addition to direct harm caused by drug use, there is the trauma children experience in households where there is addiction and substance abuse. The long-term effects of trauma on both children and adults is well documented. The costs are staggering.

If we need to look at it in another way, then we can think of it as the 21st Century application of the story of the Loaves and Fishes. We are called, challenged, to trust in the sufficiency of God’s love for all of us. We are challenged to operate from a belief in abundance rather than a model of chronic scarcity.

Both the Huntington and Morgantown teams have told us that by acting now we are operating with foresight and are significantly ahead of where they were when they began their work to address these problems. They and we recognize that the issues we are all confronting will not go away by themselves. They are not unique to West Virginia or to our region, they are nationwide. In every place and at every level the need for mental health care is at a critically high level – not just for addiction recovery but for the general population. Mental health issues underlie much of the addiction and homelessness problem.

Finally, we on the Task Force fully support the work of our law enforcement personnel in their work to interdict the movement of illegal drugs throughout our region. We recognize that drug dealers will sell whatever chemical mess they can get. They’re selling poison and we want it off the streets.

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City Hall News: Week of Dec. 13, 2021

Meeting this week are the Elkins Water Board, the Elkins Planning Commission, and the Elkins Parks & Recreation Commission. Council meets Thursday. This month’s regular meeting of council’s Public Safety Committee is cancelled.

The Water Board meets in special session Monday at 4 p.m. to discuss the possibility of paying an end-of-year stipend to water system employees. The Water Board, like the Sanitary Board, operates independently of council and has authority concerning pay for its employees.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m., the mayor’s Task Force on Addiction and Homeless Resources will hold a public forum to report on its work, hear community input, and explain opportunities for getting involved, including opportunities for volunteer peer recovery support specialists.

In a virtual meeting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, the Planning Commission will review and consider changes to the draft zoning ordinance in response to public comments made at last Tuesday’s forum. The agenda also includes the items necessary to conclude the drafting process and begin the enactment process. Further public comments are due to the city clerk by Tuesday for consideration at this meeting. More information: www.cityofelkinswv.com/zoning-update. Login information: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-and-committee-meetings.

The Parks & Recreation Commission holds its regular meeting on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Phil Gainer Community Center. The agenda includes discussion of procuring a lift for use at the center, staff reports, and comments by commissioners and the mayor.

Council meets Thursday at 7 p.m. The agenda is not yet posted and may be adjusted through Tuesday. Current items include various budget revisions recommended by the Finance Committee and the final reading of an ordinance abandoning an unopened alley near Terrace Avenue. Council will also consider the possibility of paying a year-end stipend to general fund employees. There will be a presentation by the Elkins Tree Board.

The Kump House’s Holiday Family Celebration runs Friday-Saturday, 2-5 p.m. The three-day free event, with décor by the Emma Scott Garden Club, features tours, children’s activities, and refreshments.

All meetings are held at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue) unless otherwise stated.

Now Collecting Bagged Leaves Only

City of Elkins has ended collection of loose leaves and is now collecting bagged leaves only. Bagged leaves will generally be collected within two business days of notification.

Place the bagged leaves at the curb and contact the Operations Department at (304)-636-1414, ext. 1437 to report the location of the bagged leaves for pick up.

Bags must contain only leaves and no yard waste or trash.

12/5: Outage Between South Davis and Livingston

To repair a leaking water main, we are shutting off water to Livingston Avenue, Lavalette Avenue, and Taylor Avenue (approximate area shown in map below). Customers will have low/no pressure until repairs are complete. Due to unpredictable underground conditions, we cannot accurately estimate when repairs will be completed.
 
Sign up for text/email alerts here: https://cityofelkinswv.com/emergency-text-notifications/
 
More information about the frequent water outages in South Elkins: https://cityofelkinswv.com/why-so-many-water-outages/

Council Committee Diary: November 2021

Following is a summary of committee work from the month of November 2021.

Most council agenda items originate in one of council’s standing or ad hoc committees. You can learn more about council committees here and find meeting times and agendas here.

  • Finance Committee: At its Nov. 1 meeting, the committee discussed the issue of providing an allowance for work boots for certain city departments. The committee was advised that IRS rules require such items to be taxed as compensation to the employee. No further action was taken. The committee also approved a proposal by the city treasurer to outsource mailing of utility bills to reduce costs.
  • Public Safety Committee: At its November 17 meeting, the committee learned that EPD tentatively plans to purchase Motorola body-worn and dashboard cameras. A meeting with area businesses is planned to discuss a new enforcement strategy for off-premise shopping carts. The police chief presented information about a radar sign he would like to purchase; it can be hung from signposts by a single staff member and records speed information for analysis. The need for higher compensation for the communications specialist and sworn officers was discussed. There is a significant pay disparity between the city and the county sheriff’s department.
  • Personnel Committee: Meeting November 16, the committee discussed how temporary assignment of additional duties should be compensated and how to adjust the city hall schedule for the holidays (current policy is not cleanly applicable to years when Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on weekends). The committee determined that pro-rating benefits for full-time employees who work less than 40 hours in a week is not practical.
  • Rules & Ordinances Committee: The committee, meeting November 10, decided not to recommend that council prohibit “street legal” UTVs on city streets. The committee also worked on reorganizing city laws and penalties regarding parking/standing/stopping violations and recommended that council require that the Board of Zoning Appeals meet only quarterly (and as needed for appeals), rather than monthly.
  • Municipal Properties Committee: Meeting November 3, the committee worked through the recommendations of Bryson Van Nostrand, an architect, concerning prioritization of city hall projects in light of council’s dedication of ARPA funds to such projects. First priorities are related to the fire alarm system, accessibility (especially bathrooms), and repairs to the facade to reduce the danger that pieces could fall onto passersby.
  • Special Hiring Committee: The committee finalized an updated job description for the operations manager position (especially as necessitated by the decision to shift administrative oversight of the water and sewer systems to their respective boards).
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