The State of the City

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Buckhannon Drone Facebook

January 3, 2019

The beginning of our new year poses a timely opportunity for us to look ahead, to consider our future. I continue to believe that our community is excellently postured to further raise the bar on our quality of life here for all of our residents. Please indulge me for the next few minutes as I share our plans & vision, municipal department by department for 2019.

Our utility & public safety operations shall always be the core of our essential services. Our Waste Collection Board launched its new toter system last spring & about 60% of our customers throughout Upshur County have now received their new toters. We’ve already realized greater efficiency, improved employee safety, & all residents & businesses alike are more fully accountable for the services provided to them which helps to save us all money.

As I reported last year, in combination with our streets & parks department, we very soon need to realize construction of a new welding garage & tool building at our Mud Lick Run facility. Jerry Arnold will share details in the months ahead, but we know that there will be a cost association of several hundred thousand dollars with that project that will be shared by Waste Collection & our General Fund. We need to continue to invest in & be good stewards of the physical plants of all of our facilities. I note that there has not been a rate increase in waste collections here since 2011, & in this age to see the rates of any service remain the same for eight years is almost unheard of. Jeff Wamsley’s guys continue to perform in exemplary fashion.

Our Water Board experienced a very busy 2018. The new Victoria Hill water tank was brought online & our water storage system now has more potable water than ever before. Completion of the decommissioning of the St. Joseph’s tank will follow soon. The increase in our reserve water supply is all part of the anticipated, future growth in our community associated with the ever nearing completion of Corridor H. Our cooperative arrangement with Dominion Resources & the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project resulted in the undertaking of more than two million dollars worth of improvements to our water distribution system with the cost being borne entirely by ACP. These improvements would’ve been undertaken in the future in-house with the cost borne by our residents & businesses, so- completion of this project pushes us years ahead as our waterworks distribution system has been greatly enhanced without having to increase fees.

Currently & as of January 1, Buckhannon ranks 39th out of the 369 PSC regulated water utilities in the state of West Virginia. That means we provide our water services among the most affordable communities in all of West Virginia & are at the 10.5% lowest rates in our entire state. The water plant work completed in 2018 was beneficial but at the same time problematic. When I was coming aboard as mayor nearly three years ago, the rhetoric about the two million dollars worth of improvements to our plant suggested we would add decades of service to our Harley A. Brown Water Plant & thus we were deferring tens of millions of dollars in plant replacement costs for many, many years. Now, our current consulting engineers are suggesting our water plant has another decade or so of life expectancy. We’re flummoxed about this evaluation, & our Water Board & City administration will work hard to better evaluate the status of our current plant during 2019.

We will be entirely proactive on this matter, & will not kick the can down the road. We will be working closely with the Adrian Public Service District to realize additional improvements to the southern portion of our water distribution system. We will continue to insist that all of the outlying public service districts improve their maintenance programs with their own systems to minimize the potable water that ends up being dumped into the ground. The leakage rates of some of the PSDs is untenable & we must all work to being better stewards of our precious water. City engineer Jay Hollen is working to identify ways to increase our raw water storage that might double for some form of water recreation. Stay tuned! Water Superintendent, Kelly Arnold’s staff is performing outstandingly. We welcomed a couple of new plant operators during 2018, & they’re doing a super job. On the whole, our waterworks have never been better positioned than they are right now. By the way, Buckhannon’s water was judged to be the best or tied for the best tasting water in all of West Virginia for the past two years.

Our Sanitary Board continues to function in an exemplary manner. Opened in 1987 with a then 30-40 year life expectancy, engineer Sam Ludlow & new Sanitary Superintendent Buck Samples now estimate that in 2019, our Samuel S. Ludlow Sewer Plant should endure for another 40 years given the excellent & persistent upgrades & maintenance of our existing physical plant operations all again undertaken in-house. Sam & Buck together have a City tenure exceeding 70 years. Currently as of January 1, & following rate increases during the past two years, Buckhannon ranks 173rd out of 321 PSC regulated sewer utilities in the state of West Virginia. That means our sewer services rank in the middle of the pack in affordability in West Virginia & are at the 53.9% lowest rates in our state.

Remember, during 2017, & after decades of discussion, all storm sewer operations were formally designated as being undertaken by our Sanitary Board. Our sewer staff has been engaged in extensive planning within & outside the corporate limits to improve our storm water system, & with passage of the sales tax ordinance that will be implemented in the months ahead, we anticipate great strides in further improving our storm water system as funding becomes available.

I would be remiss if I failed to note that all of our utility operations are now in compliance with State mandates to maintain a 12.5% reserve based upon a State operational revenues’ formula. We are now universally prepared for emergencies as they arise.

In Streets & Parks, there are a number of projects identified for 2019. Many more paving & sidewalk projects are planned including near the City seal mural, Kanawha, Spring, & Florida streets. The Gateway West project will start in the spring & soon there will be an amazing mile of new sidewalk, period lighting, holiday banners, & complete streets from the first Buckhannon exit all the way to our College campus. We anticipate the State project improving 88 sidewalk intersect points downtown & all along Route 20/Kanawha Street to be completed during the upcoming construction season. This will greatly enhance ADA compliance throughout our community, & particularly in the highest pedestrian traffic areas. Our North Buckhannon area will soon realize important improvements including sidewalk projects along North Florida Street, First Street, & Morton Avenue.

The North Buckhannon Park was rededicated last spring with handicap accessible parking, enhanced ADA compliance, & new playground equipment. Jawbone Park realized new improvements last year, & soon a new sound system will be installed. The long discussed Trader’s Alley/Milkman Lane project is nearing completion & we hope to dedicate it this summer connecting our beautiful downtown to our primary community gathering spot in Jawbone Park. We’ll soon dedicate the new Green park, Bobcat, & BEST benches. Our River Trail will be further enhanced with construction of a new pavilion located near the boat ramp & the dog park & this past summer we dedicated the Poundstone-Ellis Legacies Plaza. The dog park itself will continue to be developed by our excellent City crews with support funding coming from the volunteers comprising our Dog Park Committee. We look forward to at long last realizing our handicapped fishing pier. We will work with our cycling friends & extend our river trail to our high school & beyond to Sago & Pringle Tree Park. We are working out details right now with WV Split Rail to connect the dots between our downtown & the WVWC campus portion of our river trail. We resumed cemetery mowing in-house in 2017 saving our residents thousands of dollars annually while employing new seasonal workers.

Grants have permitted us to make tremendous strides in the rehabilitation of the Colonial Theatre. We have now secured about half of our funding for this four-phase project. We have a new floor that can sustain 200 tons of weight, a new roof has been installed, the restored marquee is back up, the windows have been rehabbed, & our guys are working on the balcony & lobby areas of our theatre. We anticipate Buckhannon Community Theatre performing Dracula in a renovated auditorium in October. This facility will be a crown jewel of our community when completed servicing our arts’ entities, but especially our youth.

Speaking of our youth, we will celebrate the Silver anniversary of our Stockert Youth & Community Center in 2019. We plan on breaking ground on our new auditorium/gymnasium complex in 2019 & many more fundraisings are planned as we try to edge closer to undertaking that vital project for the benefit of our kids. We raised about $110,000 with our renewed SYCC capital campaign during the past year alone. Rob Barbor & his crew continue to work their magic with our floral & landscaping program. The entrances to town are receiving some much needed sprucing up replete with new plantings & lighting. We realized community fruit orchards & vegetable gardens during the 2018 growing season. We’re going to further expand our wild flower program in 2019. Brad Hawkins’ guys simply amaze us. We simply could not employ a better Public Works Director than Jerry Arnold.

Our Police Department welcomed two new members in 2018 with the hire of Angel McCauley & Sam Kraemer who completed their academy training just last month. We’re starting 2019 with new testing to replenish our list of eligibles & we’ll soon replace an officer who resigned in December. Our officers are unanimously committed to CALEA accreditation & the CALEA committee has been very busy. We continue to develop holistic policies in addressing our drug epidemic. Kudos to Matt Gregory’s excellent officers & staff, & special thanks to our VIPS as well for protecting our lives & property.

Our Fire Department similarly worked hard on its own IFAA accreditation efforts during 2018, & all of our members are performing excellently including new chief, J.B. Kimble. The collaboration among our paid & volunteer fighters continues to establish Buckhannon as one of the best prepared fire departments in the state. Our guys need a new rescue/pumper truck soon, & the Council needs to prepare for helping them purchase that new vehicle in 2019. This vehicle will permit us to retire two or three 1990s vehicles from our fire fleet. We anticipate partnering with the county commission & our volunteers to realize the necessary funds, but, this new, fully equipped vehicle is expected to cost about $500,000. Thanks to all of our paid & volunteer firefighters for their selfless time & commitment to protecting our lives & property.

We still plan on completing the exterior improvements to the public safety complex with new lighting, reconfigured parking spaces, landscaping, & dedication of the new Police Department blue wall in 2019 to compliment the Fire Department’s red wall dedicated during Friendly Way Day 2017. Our community scrapbook wall will come to be dedicated in the frequently used Community & Training room, which by the way needs a few more tables & chairs, but we did acquire several new chairs for this much used room along with an additional TV monitor.

Callie Cronin Sams has made us vastly better at information sharing, while she has aided us reaping many more grant awards than ever before. Amby Jenkins, our Finance & Administration Director continues to perform yeoman’s work for us, & our City Hall staff has never been stronger than it is right now. We thank City Attorney Tom O’Neill, assistant City Attorney Matt Hymes, & our municipal court judge, Helen Echard for their excellent service.

2018 saw Harbor Freight locate its second West Virginia store right here within our corporate limits. Stone Tower Brews opened last April. The Innovation Center broke ground during 2018 & anticipates opening by summer. The Opera House opened this past summer & hosted the WV Municipal League receiving rave reviews from mayors & councilors from all over WV. Community Care opened its new doors downtown, Orion Strategies located its corporate headquarters downtown, Citizens Bank is open for business in its new building, JesterLine is prepared to bring new virtual reality to our downtown in the coming days, Almost Heaven CrossFit Gym opened adding vibrancy to our Trader’s Alley Arts District, Mountain Lakes Insurance is now downtown, & developers from throughout the region continue to invest substantially in our downtown. In fact, we’ve realized more than $15 million in new construction in our downtown during the past two years. We have virtually 100% store front occupancy on our Main Street.

Very soon we’ll welcome Buteras to downtown along with Mama Mia’s Pie & Pasta. Travis Foster has become an excellent partner in our downtown developments. We’ll continue to partner with businesses big & small seeking to expand or establish their enterprises in beautiful downtown Buckhannon.

We’ll continue to work closely with our wonderful friends & former protectors, the members of our American Legion & VFW on various projects including plans to develop the Veterans’ Way loop on Kanawha Street & expand the Flags for the Fallen project. We’ll partner with the WV Strawberry Festival to again help stage the most successful festival in all of West Virginia. It’s the single most important event each year in our community, & it’s an opportunity to show off what we do for the entire region. We’ll continue to work closely with Create Buckhannon, ART26201, Buckhannon Community Theatre, Buckhannon Choral Society, & all arts related groups to expand public arts in all forms- visual & performing. Our primary partners will benefit from our collaboration- West Virginia Wesleyan College, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Upshur County Commission, the Upshur County school system, the CVB, the Chamber of Commerce, & the Development Authority. We’ll continue to support small business through our Facade Grants’ Program. We’ll continue to help clean up properties through our Good Neighbor grant program helping those who need it most. Our new parking policy has been fully effected & has helped spur activity in our downtown.

We will continue to honor & support the Blessing Box & Little Free Library programs & the excellent volunteers that make those programs so successful & which distinguish Buckhannon from all other places. Speaking of volunteers, how about that new Volunteer Center & the super work of Casey Gilbert! Our inaugural Community Unity & Kindness Day was a huge success in October, & we look forward to many more BEST awards, that is, Buckhannon’s Exemplary Service Testimonials. We’ve already recognized Amanda Hayes, Zach Mutchler, Robin Keough, & next meeting Shirley Tinney.

We will continue to partner with Matt Kerner & Opportunity House to remove the stigma of addiction while creating a welcoming environment for those in recovery. We’ll partner in the third, annual HAHA, Hope And Help Assembly in September, followed by our Children’s Festival, TruckFest, Fall Fest, & all of our Halloween & Christmas fun. Festival Fridays are already scheduled for a full summer 2019 season. We’ll continue to collaborate with the River Festival group as they celebrate our community’s water supply late next summer.

Our reconstituted Planning Commission has been performing yeoman’s work to develop our 2025 comprehensive plan. The newly formed Diversity Appreciation Coalition will continue to perform important work to expand our all-inclusiveness & we’ll be announcing very soon how we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day later this month. We’ll continue to recognize our history, & to tell our story & to recognize those who’ve brought positive attention & accolades to our B-U community- soon recognizing J.D. Hinkle, Jr., Charley Harper, Steve Coonts, Jayne Anne Phillips, Breece D’J Pancake, our State’s longest recognized poet laureate Irene McKinney, Earle “Greasy Neale,” Cliff Battles, the Carter sisters, & others.

We will do all these things while being cleaner, greener, & more sustainable than ever before. We will do all these things while being more inclusive than ever before. We shall not tolerate the actions of those who seek to divide us. Anyone- regardless as to their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, handicap, or orientation who seeks to be part of our many successes is invited to participate with us & to offer their help in making our community even better. Our mission is not to be the best community around, our mission is simply to be the best community that WE can be.

I have no doubt that with our excellent staff of 85 fulltime employees that we shall take our community to another, higher level during 2019. Our outstanding employees make all of these things possible. As we begin the budgeting process for the 2019-20 fiscal year next month, & recalling my commitment to our employees that this Council honored back in October of 2016 by then approving a .50 per hour pay raise for all fulltime employees, I ask us to work together, i.e., this City Council & our Utility Boards- to find the means to implement an additional, modest cost of living increase effective during 2019 of an additional .50 an hour for all of our fulltime employees.

Our success as a City is attributed to our folks in the trenches who are repairing broken utility lines at 3:00 a.m. when it’s below zero, our first responders who answer the police & fire calls at all hours & under the most unpleasant of circumstances, our workers who are hanging off of the back of our garbage trucks whether it’s zero or 95 degrees. We need to recognize the value of those labors & we need to retain & express our collective appreciation for our very valuable work force.

I want to most sincerely thank my colleagues on this City Council who have steadfastly sponsored & supported initiatives to make our organization & community stronger. WE… truly are- all in this together. May 2019 smile kindly & fondly upon our Buckhannon-