BUCKHANNON – Neighbors help neighbors, and sometimes those neighbors live in the next community over instead of next door.
During the most recent Buckhannon City Council meeting, council voted unanimously to help the neighboring City of Elkins by providing a way to share an employee during a time of need.
Elkins mayor Jerry Marco attended the July 21 city council meeting to ask Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner and council members to approve an agreement that would allow the two sister cities to share Buckhannon’s zoning and code enforcement officer for a limited time. Marco explained that Elkins’s regular code enforcement officer is on medical leave for several months.
Marco and Skinner had discussions about the potential arrangement prior to Thursday’s meeting, but council members discussed the details of the agreement with city attorney Tom O’Neill and gave their official approval.
“We hope this is a temporary thing and we do appreciate you stepping up to help us out,” Marco said. “I love when our communities can work together. Robbie and I have a great relationship and we get to pick one another’s brains quite often. Thank you so much. I look forward working with you guys and if there is anything going forward we can do on your behalf, just let me know.”
Skinner noted the City of Elkins is without a code enforcement officer at this present moment.
“We have a code enforcement officer here in Buckhannon, and in the spirit of being good neighbors, it would be my recommendation that we authorize Vince (Buckhannon’s zoning and code enforcement officer Vincent Smith) to go over there and help the City of Elkins,” Skinner said. “As you know, we have Vince three days a week – he works in Buckhannon Monday, Wednesday and Friday – and works for several municipalities in Harrison County on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Skinner proposed that Smith work in Elkins on one of the three days he is typically in Buckhannon and said city council should not expect any compensation from the Randolph County municipality. Under the arrangement, Smith himself would be compensated by receiving paid leave from the City of Buckhannon.
“The plan would be for us not to expect any compensation from the City of Elkins on Vincent’s behalf,” the mayor said. “It would be a neighborly gesture and allow Vincent to go to Elkins on one of his three days here for approximately two months to allow the City of Elkins to continue with their board for code enforcement and to allow us to continue with our code enforcement while they are working out their situation.”
Skinner said he wanted to point out that last year, the Elkins Fire Department responded three times to significant fires that broke out within city limits, one of which was the Oct. 5, 2021, Main Street fire that could have easily spread down the block.
“One was on the corner of Cardinal Street and Reger Avenue, one was at West Virginia Wesleyan College at the Physical Plant and, of course, one was on Oct. 5 when they sent 12 firefighters and their ladder truck to help us save our Main Street block that day,” Skinner said. “They did not ask for anything in return for helping us any of those days so that is why I am recommending that we do not ask for anything in return from Elkins as we allow Vince to work over there.”
O’Neill, Buckhannon’s city attorney, outlined the plan. O’Neill said the primary concern is protecting Buckhannon from liability while Smith is working for Elkins.
“Broadly speaking, I would recommend Smith be given paid leave one day a week with the understanding that he is volunteering on behalf of the City of Elkins,” O’Neill said. “I think we would like to have a memorandum of understanding just clarifying when Smith is working under the direction of the City of Elkins, [that] he be covered by the City of Elkins’s liability insurance and worker’s compensation and that he is not working actively for the City of Buckhannon on the days he is working for the City of Elkins.”
Councilman David McCauley asked if volunteers could be covered under worker’s compensation and O’Neill said yes.
“That is an issue for Elkins City Council to look into,” O’Neill said. “They need to make sure Smith would be covered under whatever policy or insurance they may have to acquire during the tenancy of this arrangement. I will prepare a draft and we will get it to you to circulate.”
O’Neill said the motion needed to be regarding a limited, temporary leave for Buckhannon Code Enforcement Officer Vincent Smith. The motion was made by McCauley and seconded by councilwoman Pam Bucklew prior to council unanimously approving his leave to assist the City of Elkins.