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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Why aren’t the park restrooms open yet?

First, the answer to the question on many people’s minds: Restrooms in all city parks will be opened April 1. The “season” for unlocked restrooms in Elkins parks runs April through October.

Why do we wait until April 1?

These restrooms are unheated spaces, so during the off-season the water is turned off at the meter, the water lines are drained, and the drains are filled with antifreeze to prevent damage to the plumbing and fixtures. As a result, it’s not possible to easily open them up on a nice Saturday during the off season, then close them again.

Although Elkins sometimes gets periods of favorable weather before April or after October, it’s too unreliable to count on. But by April 1, we can be pretty sure we’re done with winter–or with the risk of pipe-bursting freezes,  at least. As a result, the Elkins Parks and Recreation Commission (which has only two year-round employees) budgets for seasonal staff members (who, among other duties, clean, maintain, and lock/unlock restrooms) only for April through October.

That’s why the parks bathrooms won’t be open until April 1.

Council Certifies Vote Tallies for 2021 Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two dead in River Street Fire

House was posted as uninhabitable with entrances sealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canvass Results

At yesterday’s canvass of the 2021 Municipal Election, council–seated as the Board of Canvassers–declared election results. Although most of the 30 provisional ballots were accepted, they did not change any of the races’ outcomes. (Read more about the canvass here.)

The deadline for candidates to request a recount is 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday (48 hours after conclusion of the canvass). No recount has yet been requested.

Council convenes Wednesday at 3 p.m. to certify the vote totals in all wards where recounts have not been requested.

Review changes in vote totals by clicking here.

Update on Downtown Trees

Last modified on June 16th, 2021 at 05:03 pm

From the Elkins Tree Board:

“Elkins Main Street and the Elkins Tree Board recognizes and thanks the City of Elkins Operations Department for their recent work on the downtown trees. Trimming—and removing—trees is a significant undertaking, and they have persevered.

“The urban forest is a vital part of city life. A true public resource, the downtown canopy provides shade for businesses and pedestrians, creates an inviting visual cue for visitors, and establishes habitat for birdlife; while providing positive mental benefits, sequestering carbon, and mitigating the urban heat island effect.

“So: why have some trees come down? Urban forestry is about finding the right tree for the right place. In Elkins, many trees have been planted above their right place—elevated in tree boxes. Replacing these trees in phases over time with new trees planted at grade will extend the lifetime of our urban trees, while encouraging deep root growth, which helps trees avoid damaging infrastructure.

“In mid-March, Elkins will welcome new saplings to its downtown core. With species and planting requirements thoughtfully considered, the newest city trees will help make the place we live more livable. They are an investment in tomorrow, today.”

Explainer: What’s a “Canvass”?

On Monday, at 11 a.m., the Elkins council will convene in public session at the Phil Gainer Community Center as the Elkins Board of Canvassers. The purpose of the meeting is to canvass the election that was held Tuesday.

What does it mean to “canvass the election”? (more…)

Where to Find Election Results

To publicize election results on the evening of March 2, we have added a new page to the city website: www.cityofelkinswv.com/election-results

Preliminary results of the March 2, 2021 election will be posted on that page as results are received from polling places. Election results are not final until after canvassing (March 8) and certification (March 10).

We will also provide updates on the below channels:

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