Mayor Robbie Skinner and councilman Jack Reger at the June 16 city council meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

All city residents’ mailing addresses will likely change as council grapples with how to handle post office mandate

BUCKHANNON – “If we’re going to change addresses in the city,” the mayor of Buckhannon said, “I want to do it one time.”

Buckhannon City Council took no official action regarding residential and commercial mailing addresses within the City of Buckhannon at council’s June 16 meeting, but the change mayor Robbie Skinner alluded to – and a lot of it – may be on the horizon.

Council didn’t vote on the issue at their Thursday meeting, but city officials did agree to ask city attorney Tom O’Neill to revise Buckhannon’s mapping and addressing ordinance at its first meeting in July. Those revisions would pave the way for Buckhannon to finally join the Upshur County E911 mapping and addressing system.

The issue originally arose at council’s June 2 meeting, when city public works director Jerry Arnold reported that the city had received an email from the local postmaster saying that due to logistical issues, the post office could no longer deliver to addresses that include fractions – such as 1/2 – or ones that include a letter, such as A-F, to identify a unit. (You can read the original story here.)

During his report Thursday, Arnold provided updated information, saying the post office had determined 230 addresses on 15 city streets had been marked as problematic.

“I just did some quick numbers on that, and that means it would affect about 15 streets in Buckhannon which would have to be renumbered and a little over 1,500 addresses that would have to be changed because of those 230 addresses,” Arnold said.

At their June 2 meeting, council contemplated whether it would be wise to sign on to the county’s E911 mapping and addressing system as opposed to just changing the problematic addresses on 15 streets. (City officials originally declined to sign on to the E911 mapping/addressing system about a decade ago. In fact, Buckhannon is one of only two areas in West Virginia that opted out of the E911 mapping and addressing project, which now falls under the purview of the West Virginia Emergency Management Division.)               

Arnold said he had since consulted Upshur County mapping and addressing coordinator Terri Jo Bennett who was able to find records of the information collected from city residents in 2013.

“She went back and pulled her files and has all of the information that was collected in 2013, so there would be some legwork as far as verification from 2013 up to present on structures that have been razed or added in the city, as well as some site pictures that would have to be taken,” he said.

Initially, Arnold had estimated transitioning to the county’s system would cost $25,000 to $30,000, but he found out it’s much less, falling “somewhere in the $5,000 range,” he said.

The public works director said he recommended joining the E911 addressing system, and Skinner agreed.

“I can tell you that, from a labor perspective, it is going to be much more labor-intensive – and we currently do not have the staff to do it – to change just those 230 addresses and readdress those 15 streets than what it would to go with the county addressing system,” Arnold said. “If you just changed those, you would still have two different addressing systems in the county.”

Arnold said the change would be advantageous to first responders – and to the people who they are assisting — because E911 addresses are based on any given structure’s physical distance.

“In the county, there are 500 addresses per mile on each side, and when a number comes out, [emergency personnel] know the approximate distance to that structure,” he said. “I don’t know if any of you have tried to locate an apartment A, B or C, but it is pretty difficult. And again, the number one purpose of addressing, in my opinion, is life safety.”

Skinner reiterated that the change wasn’t the city’s choice but a mandate handed down from the U.S. Postal Service.

“We did not wake up one morning and say, ‘we want to change everybody’s address in Buckhannon,’” the mayor said. “This is being handed down from the postal service, but I wholeheartedly believe that if we’re going to do this, we should accept the Upshur County addressing system, we make it consistent and we have one addressing platform in the entire county.”

Doing so now, he said, could prevent logistical headaches in the future.

“If we’re going to change addresses in the city, I want to do it one time,” Skinner said. “If we change the 230 addresses that basically evolve into 1,700 addresses because of the fallout [of those changes], I don’t want, in two years, to come back and say, ‘well, now we to adopt the 911 addressing and everybody who changed [addresses] two years ago, has to change again.’ If half of Buckhannon is going to change, let’s just adopt it and accept it and move forward.”

Arnold said the first step is to request that O’Neill, the city’s attorney, revise the city’s standalone addressing ordinance which explicitly asserts the city is not joining the county addressing system.

“We had a standalone addressing and mapping ordinance that says, ‘we’re not going with the county mapping,’ so the very first thing is to have Tom look at that ordinance, and that ordinance has to be revised in order to move forward with this,” Arnold said.

Revising that standalone ordinance will likely be on council’s agenda for its next meeting July 7.

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