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Mayor Robbie Skinner at Thursday's Buckhannon City Council meeting.

Health department to set up satellite office at City of Buckhannon’s new Street Department facility

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department will sublease office space from the City of Buckhannon to free up room in its main office for additional nursing staff to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buckhannon City Council and the health department board of directors each met separately Thursday evening to consider a rental contract agreement that would see the health department renting office space from the city effective Jan. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, an 18-month term. Both entities ultimately approved the agreement, which calls for the health department to pay the city $500 per month to rent office space and have access to a conference room.

At the health department’s meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, nurse director Sue McKisic explained the health department was outgrowing its current space on Locust Street and was in search of a satellite office in which current sanitarian Chris Garrett and an additional full-time, nonpermanent sanitarian the health department soon hopes to hire could work and teach classes.

Moving the sanitarians out to the city’s Street Department facility on Mud Lick Road will free up more space at the Locust Street location to accommodate additional nursing staff, McKisic said.

After viewing office and clerical space at the city’s new Street and Parks Department headquarters at 395 Mud Lick Road, McKisic at Thursday’s meeting told board of health members she’d been impressed. The space will allow the health department’s two sanitarians access not only to office space but also to a conference room that could hold up to 12 people in non-pandemic times, i.e. when physical distancing is not mandated. The conference room would enable the sanitarians to teach food handlers’ and septic system courses.

Later that evening, at city council’s meeting, city attorney Tom O’Neill walked council members through the terms of the agreement, which he was relatively standard.

“The health department would be responsible for securing the space they use out there,” O’Neill said. “The agreement delegates to the director of public works (Jerry Arnold) the responsibility of working out with the health department what space they will be using and provides for just some general terms,” O’Neill said.

City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins said the sublease had been given the greenlight by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office.

“I checked with the state auditor’s office because there are some attorney generals’ opinions out there about municipalities renting to organizations, and they gave us the pass on this one because it is a public organization for public health and safety,” Jenkins told council. “We just have to keep that in mind when we rent that private entities would have to seek approval from the attorney general.”

O’Neill agreed, emphasizing the city is able to rent the space to the health department because it, too, is a public entity.

“We would likely not be able to do this, or not be able to do this easily, for a private organization,” he said.

Councilman David Thomas made a motion to approve the contract, which was seconded by city recorder Randy Sanders prior to passing unanimously.

At the health board’s meeting earlier, the board approved hiring a nonpermanent, full-time sanitarian through a COVID-19 grant, with the position set to be funded through June 30, 2022. An additional, permanent full-time registered nurse was approved to be hired by the board of health at its Nov. 5, 2020 meeting and approval from the West Virginia Division of Personnel is now pending, McKisic explained. In addition, about a month ago, the health department hired another non-permanent part-time nurse.

In other city news, council approved on first reading an ordinance that implements a surcharge to pay for the cost of construction of a sewer line along the Old Weston Road. Ordinance 449 “respects the Old Weston Road (U.S. Route 33) sewer extension in establishing surcharges for customers who connect on to that line,” O’Neill explained.

The new line and how it would be paid for was the subject of much debate over the course of 2019 and early 2020. Ultimately, council reached an agreement with J.F. Allen Company, and it was decided that the construction of the line could be recouped through new sewer surcharges for collection and disposal services provided by the city’s Sanitary Board west of the city limits. The new line extends sanitary sewer service west from the end of the existing line at Red Rock Road to near the top of Buckhannon Mountain.

A surcharge is a charge that’s added to a bill in addition a regular sanitary sewer service rate; however, it would apply only to residential and commercial customers who hook onto that line. According to Ordinance 449, the project surcharge fees for the Old Weston Road extension are as follows: $3 per 1,000 gallons of water usage and a flat-rate surcharge fee of $25 per month for residential customers or $50 a month for commercial customers up to the amount of $16,222.

The ordinance passed with minimal discussion, with Sanders making a motion to approve it on first reading, which was seconded by councilman CJ Rylands prior to passing unanimously. The second reading of the ordinance will take place at council’s Jan. 21 meeting and the third and final reading and adoption of the ordinance is slated for Feb. 4, 2021.

Mayor Robbie Skinner reminded council that the line travels west of the corporate limits of Buckhannon.

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