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Buckhannon City Hall

Buckhannon mayor says constructing new water treatment plant is critical in State of the City address

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon got its report card for 2023 Thursday, and the marks were solid.

Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner delivered a detailed State of the City address at council’s meeting Feb. 1 and declared the state of Buckhannon was “strong,” while highlighting accomplishments of the 2023 calendar year and upcoming projects for the 2024 year and beyond.

Skinner also announced that he would seek a second four-year term as mayor and encouraged Upshur County residents to vote in favor of the excess levy, which will appear on the May 14, 2024, Primary ballot.

“As we sit here tonight, it’s hard to believe nearly four years have passed, and my first term serving this high office in our city is almost finished,” Skinner said. “I am pleased to announce, however, that I have officially filed for re-election, asking you to support me as I seek a second term as mayor.”

Reflecting on 2023, Skinner spotlighted key moments, such as the long-awaited completion of the Colonial Arts Center in October, the addition of a slew of new businesses and the expansions of current businesses, and the city’s successful stint hosting the 2023 World Association of Marching Show Bands Championship.

“Building on the positive momentum from our business community, we finally completed the long-anticipated Colonial Arts Center redevelopment project,” Skinner said. “What began as a dream to repurpose a blighted, former tavern on our otherwise beautiful Main Street, is now a fully renovated, state-of-the-art public entertainment space adding yet another amazing asset to the best downtown in West Virginia.”

“We wouldn’t have realized this significant accomplishment had it not been for visionaries like former Mayor David McCauley, and local business leaders Bryson VanNostrand, C.J. Rylands, Keith Buchanan, Catherine Cuppari, Erika Kolenich and John Waltz – just to name a few,” he added.

Among other bright spots, Skinner pointed to the diligent work of the 2023 WAMSB Organizing Committee, headed by City Recorder Randy Sanders.

“I think we can all say without a doubt that WAMSB 2023 here in our hometown was a tremendous success,” Skinner said. “Everyone who participated – either through spectatorship or performance –had a wonderful time in our amazing city. Our council wishes to thank you, Randy, and all our city employees and volunteers, who put in thousands of hours of blood, sweat, and maybe even a few tears to ensure our citizens and visitors saw the very best Buckhannon could offer.”

Skinner also pointed to the Buckhannon Fire Department’s efforts in 2023 to establish a peer-based mental health crisis response network for first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Chief (J.B.) Kimble is collaborating with Chief [Jimmy] Suttle in Weston and Chief [Steve] Himes in Elkins as well as with members of the three departments and Chief [Matt] Gregory of our City Police Department, to begin a process of strengthening a mental wellness program for our public safety professionals,” Skinner said. “PTSD among fire and police officers is very high, while prior to this collaboration, services to provide assistance within our region have been nonexistent. The program is designed to assist individuals with day-to-day accumulative services in the workplace.”

Skinner applauded the city police department for its second year of achieving accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

“We’re happy to report that we continue to have a near-perfect score, and the reaccreditation cycle pointed out zero issues,” the mayor said. “This marks the halfway point of the process, with full reaccreditation set for 2025.”

Also, by the end of 2023, the Volunteers in Police Service – the volunteer arm of the Buckhannon Police Department that assists with tasks such as directing traffic and crowd control – trained nine new members, taking the total number of VIPS to 11.

“Moving into 2024 VIPS will celebrate its 10-year anniversary,” Skinner said, noting Chief Matt Gregory and VIPS Coordinator Steve Wykoff have been planning events to mark the occasion, including a recruitment drive.

Looking ahead, Skinner said the city’s Water Treatment Plant on Wood Street has “long outlasted its life expectancy, having functioned effectively for more than 60 years, thanks to in-house repairs completed by department employees.

Skinner said the city must begin exploring how to fund the construction of a new water plant.

“Unfortunately, none of us enjoy talking about utility rate increases, but the likelihood of a series of ‘stair-stepped’ water rate increases will be necessary in order to complete this project,” he said. “With 96 percent of Upshur County residents relying on good, clean drinking water provided by the city … this must be a top priority as we continue to plan for our future.”

In 2024, the city plans to hire a manager for the Brushy Fork Event Center, and Skinner said the Buckhannon Parks & Recreation Advisory Board is continuing its plans to improve the City Park before turning its eye to other city parks.

“The City Park on Park Street, thanks to the planning of our newly created all-volunteer Parks and Recreation Board, is going to look and feel much nicer this Spring,” Skinner said. “We’re excited to bring pickle ball, paving, new lighting, a newly renovated pavilion, a regulation-size basketball court, trail system and improved playground equipment by May 1.”

The mayor also urged city and county residents to support the excess levy for Upshur County Schools in the May Primary.

“The vitality of this community is dependent upon it,” Skinner said. “We must have a quality school system if we are going to continue to prosper. The new administration on Smithfield Street is working very hard to make the necessary corrections so that our school system is once again regarded as once again one of the finest in the state.”

“On May 14, please vote yes,” he continued. “Vote yes for the students; vote yes for the teachers; vote yes for our bus drivers; vote yes for our coaches; vote yes for our community. We cannot punish them for the errors they didn’t make for that only hurts us all.”

Below are a few infrastructure updates Skinner provided from the Sanitation Sewer Department, Water Department and Waste Department (trash pickup):

  • Over 5,000 feet of clay tile into three new PVC systems, including ones on Shawnee Drive, Myrna Street, Taylor Street, North Locus Street and Madison Street
  • A major upgrade to the Ritchie Street Stormwater collection system was completed
  • A new water main was installed on Thurman Avenue
  • A preliminary hydraulic analysis was completed for the Jawbone Run basin
  • A new booster station building and water distribution system were installed at the Tennerton Booster station, and the Tennerton Water Storage Tank was rehabilitation
  • A new “all-encompassing” Waste Department Strategic Plans is being created by City Engineer Jay Hollen and Director of Public Works Jerry Arnold.
  • Plans for a streetscape project to beautify part of Ritchie, Fayette and Pocahontas Streets are in the works
  • Read Skinner’s State of the City in full here.

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