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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Mayor Lifts State of Emergency

In an order effective April 1, Mayor Van Broughton is lifting the citywide state of emergency he declared last spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Broughton’s March 17, 2020 citywide emergency declaration did not impose any restrictions on the public and mainly served to enable more flexible internal decision-making within the city government.

With infections surging in some states and barely more than half of West Virginia counties designated as “green” on the W. Va. DHHR County Alert System map, the end of the state of emergency does not signal the end of the pandemic. City of Elkins has no immediate plans to alter current precautions, including requirements for face coverings and social distancing. Council meetings will continue to be held at the Phil Gainer Community Center through April.

After the declaration of the citywide state of emergency, the only public-facing order subsequently issued by Mayor Broughton was a temporary ban on yard sales and door-to-door solicitation. This ban was lifted on May 15, 2020.

Using his powers under the emergency declaration, the mayor ordered several modifications to the city’s internal personnel policies that remain in effect: a COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, an Extended COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, and a COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. His suspension of a city policy that would have required call-out pay for all work performed by city employees during this state of emergency also expires as of April 1.

Mayors are granted authority for emergency declarations under West Virginia Code 15-5-1. The mayor’s proclamation ending this state of emergency has been posted online and at city hall. It will also be transmitted to the governor’s office and to the office of the Randolph County Commission.

A scan of the signed proclamation ending the state of emergency may be viewed by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

City Hall News: Week of March 29, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., March 27, 2021: Council meets Wednesday, when newly elected officials will also take their oaths of office. Council’s Economic Growth and Development (EGAD) Committee meets Thursday, and city hall is closed Friday.

Council meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Phil Gainer Community Center. The agenda may be adjusted through Monday. Current agenda items include appointments to the newly established water board, establishment of a separate fund and bank account for American Rescue Plan Act funds, and a request to waive B&O taxes for the city hall parking lot project. The winning candidates from the 2021 election, who take office Thursday, April 1, will be sworn in after the meeting.

B&O tax return forms will be mailed to city business-license holders on Wednesday. Returns are due by April 30.

On Thursday, restrooms at city parks open for the season and, at 5 p.m., the EGAD Committee meets at city hall to discuss annexations and incentives for new businesses.

City hall is closed Friday in observance of Good Friday. Trash will be picked up as usual.

Spring Cleanup 2021 will occur on the following schedule: First Ward, April 5-6; Second Ward, April 7-8; Third Ward, April 9 & 12; Fourth Ward, April 13-14; Fifth Ward, April 15-16. This service is for residences, not businesses. Appliances, tires, free flowing liquids, batteries, and yard waste will not be accepted. Learn more here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/spring-cleanup-dates-announced.

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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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City Hall News: Week of March 22, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., March 20, 2021: The only meeting next week is that of the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on Boards and Commissions. Spring Cleanup 2021 starts April 5.

On Thursday at 9 a.m., the Committee on Boards and Commissions considers the Enforcement Agency, the Randolph-Elkins Board of Health, and the Elkins Sanitary Board. Committee members are working to ensure consistency between local and state laws stipulating numbers of members, appointment processes, and related matters. The committee will also review current board and commission vacancies. Find out how to get involved with boards and commissions here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/government/mayor-city-council/boards-commissions

Spring Cleanup 2021 will occur on the following schedule: First Ward, April 5-6; Second Ward, April 7-8; Third Ward, April 9 & 12; Fourth Ward, April 13-14; Fifth Ward, April 15-16. This service is for residences, not businesses. Appliances, tires, free flowing liquids, batteries, and yard waste will not be accepted. Learn more here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/spring-cleanup-dates-announced.

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Spring Cleanup Dates Announced

Elkins, W. Va., March 19, 2021: The City of Elkins Operations Department will be offering Spring Cleanup April 5-16. Street Department crews will visit each ward to collect certain categories of bulk refuse items at no charge. This service is for residences only, not businesses. No more than one level pickup-truck load will be accepted from each household, and loose trash will not be collected. Click here to download a flyer.

The ward schedule is as follows:

  • First Ward: April 5-6
  • Second Ward: April 7-8
  • Third Ward: April 9 & 12
  • Fourth Ward: April 13-14
  • Fifth Ward: April 15-16

To take advantage of this service, please have all items at the curb in front of your house or building no later than 5:30 a.m. on the first assigned day for your ward. Crews will not return to the part of the ward they visited on the first day, so placing your items out on the second day may result in your items being left behind.

Crews will only accept one level pickup truck load from each residence. The following items will not be accepted: appliances, tires, free flowing liquids, batteries, and yard waste. Please make all items as easy to collect as possible, such as by bagging or boxing smaller items. Crews will not collect loose trash.

The 2020 Spring Cleanup was postponed during the first month of the coronavirus epidemic in West Virginia before ultimately being canceled. The decision to postpone was based on public health recommendations and advice from the West Virginia Public Service Commission about reducing the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus on surfaces. Because of that postponement, the city missed the ideal window of opportunity for providing this courtesy service to city residents.

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City Hall Parking Lot Project Going to Bid

Elkins, W. Va., March 19, 2021: The City of Elkins will soon be accepting bids for construction services for a project to pave and make other improvements to the parking lot at Elkins City Hall. Parties interested in bidding must attend a mandatory pre-bid meeting on April 1 and submit bids by April 26. The pre-bid meeting and the bid opening will both be held at Elkins City Hall.

The project site includes both the police parking area adjacent to Davis Avenue and the large city/public parking area extending from behind city hall to Railroad Avenue. The lot, which is partially paved and partially gravel, or aggregate, is currently not ideal for year-round use.

“Right now, with that gravel surface, most of that parking lot is really not very useable during the winter months or during rainy weather,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “It’s also frankly not very attractive right now, and that’s unfortunate given the high utilization of Railroad Avenue by train customers and other visitors.”

Pingley says the project will correct these shortcomings and provide a parking alternative for anyone who needs to come downtown.

“Our goal with this project is to create a paved, well-lit, attractive parking lot with a large number of spaces for downtown business owners, customers, and other members of the public to use, free of charge,” he explained.

Project components include asphalt paving and striping; construction of concrete curbing and sidewalk; storm sewer, sanitary sewer, and electrical/communications modifications; landscaping, including planting green spaces with native species; and other items as time and budget allow.

“In the design process, we’re also going to be looking at implementing a standard look for signage and other elements to be used at all city properties,” said Pingley.

The firm of Pickering Associates is already under contract for project management, civil engineering, landscape design, and related services.

A pre-bid meeting will be held in council chambers at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue) on Thursday, April 1, at 9 a.m. This meeting is mandatory for any company planning to submit a bid. Bids will be accepted until 1 p.m. on April 26, 2021, at which time they will be opened in a public meeting. Both meetings are open to the public. This project is expected to be completed this year.

Parties interested in bidding must obtain a bid package from Pickering Associates. Electronic bid documents are available at www.pickeringplanroom.com at no cost.

Fire Department to Add Two Firefighters

Elkins, W. Va., March 18, 2021: The Elkins Fire Department will soon be able to assign three professional firefighters to each shift, increasing personnel safety and speeding response times. At last night’s meeting, city council approved adding two paid positions to the department, bringing its total staffing level from seven to nine full-time civil-service firefighters.

“This is your fire fee at work,” said EFD Chief Tom Meader. “EFD is totally funded by the fire-protection service fee charged to everyone the department serves, both inside city limits and in our first-due area outside the city. Without that revenue stream, we’d never have been able to grow like this.”

With only seven firefighters currently on staff, there are sometimes just two working a given shift, which Meader says is not ideal.

“Depending on the nature of the call, two firefighters is not always a safe minimum, so there are times right now when we have to wait for a volunteer to arrive before rolling out from the station,” he explained.

Once the two new positions are filled, EFD—which responds to an average of around 650 calls a year—will be able to assign three firefighters per shift, enabling the department to respond even faster when help is needed.

“With three on a shift,” said Meader, “we will be able to roll out within two or three minutes of being dispatched.”

The two vacancies created by last night’s council action will be filled from the department’s existing civil-service list, which was updated in the fall of 2020.

“We’ll be going down the civil-service list in order and putting candidates through our standard pre-hiring evaluations,” said Meader. “We look forward to welcoming two new firefighters into the department by about mid-April.”

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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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City Hall News: Week of March 15, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., March 13, 2021: Meeting next week are the Elkins council and its Personnel, Public Safety, and Municipal Properties Committees. The Elkins Sanitary Board and the Elkins Planning Commission also meet, and the Elkins Tree Board is offering a tree-pruning workshop.

The Personnel Committee, meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, will consider a proposal to increase the Elkins Fire Department’s number of civil-service firefighter positions from seven to nine.

Also on Monday, at 3:15 p.m., the Elkins Sanitary Board—which manages the city’s sewer system—will review invoices, including for the ongoing sewer/stormwater separation project, and financial statements.

Meeting Tuesday at 10 a.m. is council’s Public Safety Committee, which will discuss ongoing enforcement efforts concerning properties located at 898 Cole Avenue, 58/60 Eleventh Street, and 1 First Street.

On Tuesday, at 12 p.m., the Elkins Tree Board and W. Va. Division of Forestry urban foresters will offer a free, public tree-pruning workshop in Glendale Park. Bring gloves and tools if you have them and meet at the park office; no registration required.

The Elkins Planning Commission meets virtually on Tuesday at 1 p.m. to elect officers and continue its ongoing project of updating the city’s zoning laws. (Login information: www.CityOfElkinsWV.com/council-and-committee-meetings)

There is a Wednesday, 9 a.m. meeting of council’s Municipal Properties Committee. The committee will discuss the Elkins Main Street Streetscape plan, hear an update on the city-hall parking lot project, and consider the creation of public flower gardens.

Council meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. The agenda may be adjusted through Monday. Current items include the final reading of an ordinance establishing a water board (similar to the city’s sanitary board), a proposal to change the parking enforcement position from part to full time, and consideration of proposed FY 2022 budgets for the General, Landfill, and Coal Severance Funds.

More than 800 new remote-read water meters have been installed as part of the citywide water-meter replacement project. Utility bills and in-city fire-protection service fees are due no later than March 17. Anyone with questions about utility bills should call (304) 636-1414, ext. 1715 or 1720.

Unless otherwise stated, the above meetings are being held in person (not virtually). Committee meetings are held in the council chamber at city hall, and council meets at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

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