Editor’s note: The text of City of Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner’s 2023 State of the City address appears in full below.
Members of City Council, department directors, administration, staff, business owners, and residents of our City of Buckhannon: Good evening and thank you for joining us as we highlight the many projects and accomplishments we’ve celebrated over the past year together and share excitement for the future of our City in 2023.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as Mayor of our hometown since July 1, 2020, and although we’ve shared good times together, we cannot deny that these past few years have each posed their own difficulties and challenge, but still our community, and the wonderful people who call our City of Buckhannon home, continue to preserve.
One year ago, the start of the year 2022 gave us hope. The world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to loosen its grip. Businesses, churches, holiday, and social get-togethers were finally gaining the confidence of returning to in-person gatherings; a sense of normal. We welcomed back a full, 10-day-long West Virginia Strawberry Festival, and it was a lot of fun! Our city beamed with pride as we were finally able to show off our strawberry spirit for the fifty plus thousand people who flock to Buckhannon to enjoy the unofficial kick off to Summer in North-Central West Virginia. As Mayor, I joined the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board of Directors in 2022, and I am proud to report that, under the direction of President Shane Jenkins, our festival organization is in the best shape that it’s been in many years. We’re looking forward to another great festival in 2023!
We welcomed more new businesses to town including The Coop, Mountain Chic Boutique, Brightside, and Moonflower – all on Main Street, and elsewhere throughout the community: The Outpost, owned by Aaron and Tasha Harris, People’s Bank, Shop N’ Save, CP Imagery, The Tanning Hut, ParMar stores, Mizu Japanese Steakhouse, and Sam’s Southern Sea Food all opened in 2022. Additionally, several more businesses improved upon their existing footprints, or took on major expansions, including the return of Sweet-A-Licious. Devastated by fire in 2021, Michelle Jack now has the perfect location across the street from Jawbone Park. Citizens Bank of West Virginia purchased Community Bank and are remodeling our former fire station on Locust Street to add more offices, thus creating more jobs. Community Care of West Virginia purchased and remodeled the former Citizens Bank location. Buffalo Wild Wings and First Community Bank both underwent complete interior renovations. Wendling’s Food Service continued to expand, adding more job opportunities – further proving the Upshur County IS a great place to live, work, and invest!
Though many positives have taken place, we cannot deny that our community is changing. Nostalgic businesses have closed – some due to retirements, and some due to uncontrollable external factors. Thompson’s & Miller’s Pharmacies, and Andregg’s Jewelers on Main Street closed early in 2022. Those three businesses represent a legacy of over 200 years combined on Main Street. We wish Doug and Yvonne Stewart, John Miller, and Jake Andregg happy and healthy retirements. Speaking of Andregg’s, though, have you heard the news? Yours truly will be opening a jewelry store in the same location on Main Street this Spring. I’m excited to continue Jake’s legacy and do my part to help keep Main Street vibrant and beautiful. Chris Brake also decided to embark on retirement, which resulted in the closure of Brake’s Dairy King. BUT… the Outpost on Brushy Fork Road has many of Brake’s favorites offered daily. Finally, the end of 2022 brought additional sadness, and state-wide outcry, with the closure of one of our most-well-know local staples: The Donut Shop. BUT… I learned just today that an announcement will be made very soon regarding its come back.
Building on the positive momentum of from our business community, we are excited to see the light at the end of the tunnel with our Colonial Theater project. We’ve made significant progress in 2022 toward completing project, which should open very soon as a fully renovated, state-of-the-art public entertainment space adding yet another amazing asset to our beautiful Downtown. In September, following significant discussion and community conversation, City Council finalized the architectural plans for our new, also state-of-the-art Stockert Youth & Community Center’s new multi-purpose facility. We plan to break ground on this facility later this year. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re thrilled to be able to offer additional space for our youth to enjoy recreation. We couldn’t have done without the guidance and leadership of our Stockert Board of Directors, generous donors, and community members. Thank you!
I want to now provide updates from several internal city departments; highlighting what has been accomplished, and some of the goals we have as we look to our future:
CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT:
Chief Gregory and his officers have completed their first full year of CALEA Accreditation (that is the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies). This continues to be a HUGE honor, and we could not be prouder of our officers for all their hard work and dedication to seeing this process through and continuing to maintain this status.
The department has been working on bringing back a Citizens Police Academy – set to begin on February 7. This opportunity will be utilized for not only training our new VIPS volunteers, but also giving the general public a unique perspective into the inner workings of the police department. Classes will meet every Tuesday for six weeks. Participants then can attend CERT training for an additional four weeks.
In 2022, we hired three additional police officers. These young men are now at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Charleston for the next 15 weeks. Following their graduation in the Spring, they will return to Buckhannon and finish their training with our field training program. Once field training is complete, the police department will finally be back to a fully trained staff, something which hasn’t occurred for six years.
Additionally, department acquired a “use-of-force simulator and is in the process of fielding this very useful piece of training equipment into our training programs and operations. This equipment allows officers more realistic scenario-based training exercises, thus helping them make better decisions to keep them and the public safer.
CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT:
Chief Kimble and our BFD members had another busy year; responding to 1,218 total calls in 2022; down 75 calls from 2021. In those calls, our firefighters assisted in delivering three babies, and resuscitated four patients through CPR.
In March, we were thrilled to receive our brand new, custom-built fire engine (Engine 11) from the Sutphin Corporation in Columbus, Ohio. The engine cost roughly ¾ of a million dollars and has proven to be a great asset to our fire department fleet so far.
Like the CALEA Accreditation at the Police Department, our Fire Department continues to work toward CFAI Accreditation (that is the Commission on Fire Accreditation International). This is a much slower process than the police department because it is data driven vs. policy driven.
In December, we received excellent news that our community’s ISO rating was reduced from a 4 to a 3. The scale is from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best, and 10 being the worst. For every level reduced, both residential and commercial property insurance premiums go down resulting in a savings for property owners. A community ISO rating is calculated after reviewing both the fire and water departments.
Also in December, John Brugnoli and Tanner Smith passed their exam to be promoted to Lieutenants. We extend congratulations to them and thank them for their pursuit to always improve their skills.
Ethan Crosten and his crews have been busy laying the groundwork on our new Madison Street green space and parking area. They’ve added over 200 feet of storm sewer and over 700 feet of main and service lines in order to serve vendors for fairs and festivals. I should mention that this project is a city-wide, team effort. Our Water and Street Departments are also very involved, coordinating resources, saving money to create a nice addition to Downtown.
Other projects throughout the city include adding storm water collection and sewer main upgrades to Shawnee Drive, and College Avenue near the corner of Lumber Street. Last Summer, our crews worked with West Virginia Wesleyan College to repair a major sink hole on campus – thus adding a long-term fix to line that previously had a catastrophic failure.
We purchased a new mini-excavator and added two more class two operators and we’re working toward adding four more CDL drivers.
Kelly Arnold and his crews have been busy making upgrades all over town. Some of these include: the installation of a new domestic and fire service to Battle Green Company on Brushy Fork Road. A new fire service was installed at Buckhannon Christian Academy, also on Brushy Fork. Crews worked with our fire department members to install new fire service lines on Mudlick Road – the site of our future fire training facility. An 8” main line was replaced at the entrance of Sam’s Pizza. (I should add, Commissioner Sam Nolte, and owner of Sam’s Pizza, was very complementary of the job). We rehabilitated the Tennerton storage tank using $134,000 of ARPA funds that provides critical fire suppression to Buckhannon-Upshur High School. We also relocated an 8” line Raella Lane, lowered a line 6” for sewer department on Shawnee Drive, installed a 2” main line for our new green house, and added a new 2’ line on Vicksburg Road for a new residential development.
A total of 38 leaks were repaired, 15 new services were installed, 16 new valves installed, and numerous plant improvements were made – adding to the crucial longevity of our facility on Wood Street. Finally, our water loss rate continues to be one of the best in the state – sitting at well under 10%.
STREET & WASTE DEPARTMENTS:
Brad Hawkins and his guys have been working on installing thousands of feet of new ADA compliant sidewalks on West Main Street, North & South Kanawha Street, North Spring Street, Willard Way, and South Florida Street, shaping the landscape at the Madison Street project, and widening North Kanawha Street. Several paving projects were completed including: Smithfield, Gum, Lightburn, North Spring, West Lincoln, Second, and Latham Streets. Once the sidewalks are complete on South Kanawha Street, the stretch from First Community Bank to the Triangle will also be paved.
Replacing street signs continues to be a priority (and I get to help with that project). We completed the construction of our new 30’X130’ city greenhouse. Dixie Green, or City Horticulturalist, did a FANTASTIC job on the flowers in 2022. Downtown looked as beautiful last year, as it ever did!
The Waste Collection Department finalized the implementation of the toter-cart system, making waste collections safer and more efficient. Jerry and the Waste Collection Board have been working on a comprehensive strategic plan to implement new operational solutions to increase efficiency with more automated systems.
City Engineer Jay Hollen continues to be one of organization’s busiest bees. When it comes to receiving and administering grant funding, there’s no one like Jay. To highlight some of Jay’s work, I’ll do my best to summarize:
Work continues, and should be completed prior to June 30, 2023, on the Gateway West Sidewalk and Lighting Improvement Project. The estimated cost of the completed Project is $625,840, of which the city is only responsible for $125,168.
Work continues, and should be completed prior to June 30, 2023, on the design phase of the Poundstone Multi-Use Trail Extension project from the Marion Street / Railroad Avenue intersection to the Wood Street / Preston Street intersection. The estimated cost of the completed project is $50,000, of which the city is responsible for $10,000.
Upon completion of the design phase and review / approval from the DOH, the construction phase of the Poundstone Multi-Use Trail Extension project will begin. The estimated cost of the construction phase is $240,785, of which the City is only be responsible for $48,157.
Work continues on the detailed design, which includes the project specifications and drawings, of the Stockert Youth & Community Center’s Multi-Use Facility. We anticipate the contract documents will be completed by late Spring or early Summer.
In the very near future, the Water Department will begin construction on the new waterline project along Route 20 South near Stoney Run required for the new Tennerton Booster Station Building. The project is being undertaken using ARPA funding. The estimated cost of the project was $271,150, of which the city was responsible for $0.00.
Also, in the very near future, the Water Department will begin construction, via a contractor, on the new Tennerton Booster Station Building project along Route 20 in the Tractor Supply Complex. The project is being undertaken using ARPA funding.
In the very near future, the Sewer Department will begin construction on the new sanitary sewer collection system along Taylor Street. The project is being undertaken using ARPA funding. The estimated cost for the new sanitary sewer collection system is $577,742, of which the city was responsible for $0.00.
In the very near future, the Sewer Department will advertise, bid and begin construction, via a contractor, on the new sanitary sewer collection system along North Locust Street. The project is being undertaken using ARPA funding. The estimated cost for the new sanitary sewer collection system is $291,643, of which the City was responsible for $0.00.
In addition to the department heads listed above, Finance & Administration Director Amby Jenkins is truly an invaluable resource for our city. She is in this building before the sun comes up and doesn’t leave until long after the sun goes down. By the way, I’m not talking about Winter sunrise and sunset references. If it were mid-June, when the sun comes up at 6am and doesn’t go down until after 9pm, the same is true. She has dedicated her life to the betterment of this organization, and we will never be able to thank her enough.
City Attorney Tom O’Neil, Stockert Youth Director Deborah Brockleman, Colonial Arts Center Director Anne Wilson, and Building Code and Enforcement Officer Vincent Smith all play integral roles in taking our projects from discussions to finished products.
As you can see, we have been extremely busy, but we wouldn’t want it any other way! Our team includes nearly 100 men and women who come to work every day – all for one goal: to serve our community. To signify our appreciation, Council approved the largest comprehensive pay increases to our employees in the history of the city. Over $700,000 of annual payroll improvements was spread out to every single employee. To everyone who works here: We want YOU to know that YOU are appreciated for everything YOU do!
Over the course of this next year, one of our main goals is to comprehensively look at our city parks and make some much needed improvements. We have done a great job developing the Jawbone Park area, but our City Park on Park Street, and our other five public parks also need our attention. In 2022, the city’s first ever Parks & Recreation Board was created by ordinance, and the members of this board are set to have their first meeting next week. I am confident that this energetic group will help us realize our goal of improving all parks.
Council, as we work on our 2023-2024 general fund budget, I am asking that we consider an allocation of funds to support the efforts and suggestions of our board and committee members toward improving our parks and recreational facilities.
Finally tonight, I want to say I am proud of my colleagues on this City Council. Each one of you brings a wealth of knowledge and unique perspective to the table. I appreciate your friendship, guidance, discussions, and even disagreements. Our community is a better place because of the conversations held here, and the diverse opinions and backgrounds that guide us forward.
And so, to the citizens and business owners of this wonderful community, I am proud to report to you tonight that the State of our City is strong. We are well-positioned for the future, and I am confident we will continue to be one of “America’s Best Small Towns!” It is truly my honor to serve my hometown, the City of Buckhannon, as your Mayor, and I cannot thank all of you enough for your support, love, encouragement, guidance, advice, and prayers most importantly. Let’s bring on 2023!
May God continue to bless our City of Buckhannon, State of West Virginia, and the United States of America!