Mayor Robbie Skinner Delivers the State of the City Address
BUCKHANNON, WV: City of Buckhannon Mayor, Robbie Skinner, delivered the State of the City Address with a review of the 2023 year at the February 01, 2024, City Council Meeting.
Here is the text of Mayor Skinner’s State of the City Address:
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 2024.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as Mayor of our hometown since July 1, 2020. As we sit here tonight, it’s hard to believe nearly 4 years have passed, and my first term serving this high office in our city is almost finished. 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 of the City of Buckhannon. Together, I am confident we will continue moving the needle forward, thus strengthening our campaign of making this community truly one of the best small towns in America!
We welcomed more new businesses to town including The Coop, Brightside, Moonflower, Ironwood, Jimbo’s, B-U Time to Shine Car Wash and The Hearing Aid Place. We also saw significant expansions by St. Joseph’s Hospital, Community Care of West Virginia, Citizens Bank of West Virginia, Highpoint Construction, Argo Books, Blue Ridge Risk Partners, Orion Strategies, Fish Hawk Acres, Micrologic, Lynx, Strategy IT, Foster’s Marketing Group, Par Mar Stores, Sheetz, Ace Hardware, and Wendling’s Food Service – all adding more job opportunities which further proves Upshur County IS a great place to live, work, and invest!
Building on the positive momentum from our business community, we finally completed the long-anticipated Colonial Arts Center redevelopment project. 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 like Bryson VanNostrand, C.J. Rylands, Keith Buchanan, Catherine Cuppari, Erika Kolenich, and John Waltz – just to name a few. Also, at some point or another, all our city employees have had a hand in the construction and/or fundraising efforts necessary to complete the project. Our Council wishes to sincerely thank every one of you – the visionaries, contractors, employees, donors, and performance participants. We wouldn’t be where we are today without you!
Perhaps the most exciting part of the year 2023 was our City of Buckhannon’s incredible opportunity to host the World Association of Marching Show Bands (WAMSB) in July. Our City Recorder, Randy Sanders, West Virginia Wesleyan College administrators John Waltz and Alisa Lively, and local resident Brad Kellison put together a truly inspiring proposal to the WAMSB board of directors in 2019 & 2020, which ultimately awarded the 2023 competition to Buckhannon, West Virginia. From there, an all-volunteer group of citizens, led by Randy, planned every detail of the event for two years. I think we all can say without a doubt that WAMSB 2023 here in our hometown was a tremendous success! Every part of the event went off without a hitch. Everyone who participated – either through spectatorship or performance had a wonderful time in our amazing city. Our council wishes to sincerely 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.
I now want to provide updates from several internal city departments; highlighting accomplishments, as well as goals we have as we look to our future:
CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT:
Chief Kimble and our BFD members had another busy year; responding to 1,120 total calls in 2023; down 98 calls from 2022. This is an interesting statistic: individual call volume totaled 4,806 calls, which equals 4.3 members per incident.
We began 2023 with good news for property insurance payers as our ISO Protection Class rating decreased to 3. The ISO Protection Classification scale ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best score, and 10 being the worst score. In the nearly eight years I’ve been associated with the city; our ISO Protection Class rating has reduced from 5 to 3 – a true testament to the talent and dedication of our firefighters. This hard work represents a 20% reduction in property insurance premiums!
In September, myself, Chief Kimble, Captain Baxa, Lieutenant Ethan Smith, and Firefighter Maria Potter traveled to Columbus, Ohio where we were presented with the Firehouse Magazine Michael O. McNamee Award of Valor for acts of courage and bravery stemming from a successful life-saving mission in November 2022.
Under the leadership of Captain Baxa, our fire department and the city hosted the first annual Country Roads Fire Conference at the Brushy Fork Event Center in January 2023 (and now for the second time in January 2024). Firefighters from all over the Southeast, including several from across our state, came to Buckhannon to learn from each other, share experiences and expertise, and enjoy everything our community has to offer.
Chief Kimble is collaborating with Chief Suttle in Weston and Chief Himes in Elkins, as well as with all members of the three departments, and Chief Gregory of our City Police Department, to begin a process of strengthening a mental wellness program for our public safety professionals. This is a great need. PTSD among fire and police officers is very high, while prior to this collaboration, services to provide assistance within our region have been non-existent. The program is designed to assist individuals with day-to-day accumulative services in the workplace.
CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT
The police department completed its second year in the CALEA reaccreditation cycle. We’re happy to report that we continue to have a near-perfect score, and the reaccreditation cycle pointed out zero issues. This marks the halfway point of the process, with full reaccreditation set for 2025.
Our police department continues to be an active partner with West Virginia Wesleyan College. We host not only Criminal Justice students as interns but also Service Scholars sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement. Specifically, with the Service Scholar program, the police department began a mentorship program where a senior student volunteer guides and mentors a freshman student volunteer as they assist the police department with a wide variety of administrative tasks, including but not limited to helping to manage our accreditation.
In 2023, we continued to be an active member of the Mountain Region Drug Task Force where we have taken an active part in the eradication and investigation of drug activity – both in our city and throughout the region. We appreciate our partnerships with the Upshur, Randolph, and Barbour County Sheriff’s Departments, as well as the City of Elkins Police Department.
Last, but certainly not least, our police department trained 9 new VIPS members in 2023, resulting in a total of 11 active members. The VIPS were involved in 204 public and private events in 2023. Moving into 2024, VIPS will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Chief Gregory and Steve Wykoff have a wide variety of events planned to commemorate this milestone, including a profile of the organization and its many accomplishments as well as a recruitment drive.
In 2023, the collection crews and city contractors were able to upgrade over 5,000 feet of clay tile into new PVC systems. Major projects in these upgrades included 1,100 feet on Shawnee Drive, 1,200 feet in Myrna Street, 1,200 feet on Taylor Street, 900 feet along North Locust Street, and 600 feet along Madison Street.
Along with the Madison Street upgrade, services for vendors were also created around the newly constructed parking lot between East Lincoln and Madison Streets, and the stormwater system was upgraded on the property. The entire redevelopment of this property should be completed in 2024.
Major improvements to the wastewater treatment process were also completed with the installation of an automatic bar at the headworks of the plant. This, along with changes to the treatment process, has resulted in a cleaner effluent being produced.
A major stormwater project took place to complete the Ritchie Street Stormwater collection system. This project upgraded a severely undersized pipe which created a bottleneck in the system. This was the 7th and final phase of this project which began in the mid-2000’s.
In conjunction with the Street and Water Departments, the intersection realignment at Scott Street and Shawnee Drive was completed with the addition of stormwater facilities as well.
One of the great points of pride for our city is that we own the utility services in our community. We collect the waste, provide high-quality drinking water, and operate a wastewater treatment facility – all to best serve our citizens and business owners. We have continuously made necessary upgrades to all our facilities – mostly completed by our own crews – all in an effort to squeeze every possible ounce of available life out of each plant, truck, pipe, and piece of machinery.
Our city’s water treatment plant, located on Wood Street, was constructed back in the late 1950’s through early 1960’s. It has served us VERY well. Think about the growth, expansion, increased demand, as well as everyday wear and tear on that facility. The plant is in its mid-60s age-wise, and has long outlived its life expectancy; again, thanks to our highly skilled water department crews. If not for them, we would’ve had to construct a new facility some twenty years ago, thus missing out on those additional years we’ve been able to utilize our current plant.
What does all this mean exactly? Our city needs to begin the exploration process of ultimately constructing a new water treatment 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. With 96% of Upshur County residents and businesses relying on good, clean drinking water provided by the City of Buckhannon, this must be a top priority as we continue to plan for our future.
As for the work completed by our crews this past year, we now have a brand new 6″ water main on Thurman Avenue, replacing the existing 4” cast-iron line. This is a drastic improvement to both water service and fire services. Chief Operator, Kelly Arnold presented the Water Board with a comprehensive list of lines throughout the city that require upgrades. We are tackling the most imperative needs first and working our way down the list.
We also improved the water department’s score from 26 to 34 out of a possible 40 points on the ISO Protection Class scale by following suggested flow testing methods, recording, and keeping maintenance of hydrants. The water and fire departments both worked very closely with each other to ultimately help us achieve the improved score of 3 on the 1-10 scale mentioned earlier in this report.
STREETS, WASTE, AND ENGINEERING DEPARTMENTS:
Jerry Arnold and Jay Hollen have been busy as usual working through a long list of projects through Waste Collection, Streets, Parks, Sanitation, and Water Departments. Just this morning, Jerry shared that the all-encompassing Waste Department strategic plan should be complete by Spring this year. This will allow us to have a better understanding of our equipment needs, as well as how to proceed with rating customers – both residential and commercial – inside and outside of city limits. Jerry has been working on this for the better part of 2023.
Jay Hollen is thrilled to report that we’ve completed the construction and project management of FEMA Generator Grant #1, and we are nearing the completion of FEMA Generator Grant #2. The approximate value of grant #1 is $1,203,994.86 with no reimbursement costs from the City of Buckhannon. Grant #2’s approximate value is $1,142,167.00 with no reimbursement costs from the City of Buckhannon.
Jay is continuing to work on the engineering and design of the Island Avenue Utility and Street Improvement Project, including the orderly installation of new gas, sanitary, storm, and water lines from on the North side of Island Avenue from North Florida Street to Gate Street. He’s hoping to submit the project documents for the sanitary sewer collection system phase of the project to the Bureau for Public Health by mid-February 2024. We anticipate the sanitary sewer collection system will be installed late Spring 2024 through late Fall 2024, and the waterline and gas line (by Mountaineer Gas if required) will begin construction in Spring 2025.
We continued the construction and project management activities for Gateway West Phase II. The approximate value of the Grant is $625,840.30 with a 20% contributing match ($125,168.06) by the City of Buckhannon. However, due to the efficiency of the Street Department, it is estimated that this project will be completed at an estimated cost of $458,958.94, with the city contributing 91,791.79. All construction has been completed except for the installation of (4) streetlights along Lower Amalia Drive, which is expected to be completed by late Spring 2024. Once the (4) streetlights are installed, Jay will begin the project closeout procedures with the West Virginia Department of Highways.
Our city received funds ($2,382,905.27) through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help us realize significant underground utility improvements. We acted quickly to establish our plan of action so we could complete the projects outlined in a timely and efficient manner. Our 6 projects included:
- Taylor Street Storm Sewer Engineering and Hydrology Study
- Taylor Street Sanitary Sewer Collection System Installation Project
- North Locust Street Sanitary Sewer Collection System Installation Project
- Tennerton Water Storage Tank Rehabilitation
- Tennerton Booster Station Building – New Booster Station Building
- Tennerton Booster Station Building – New Water Distribution System Installation Project
- Purchase of new Water equipment for the Water Treatment Plant Projects
- Preliminary hydraulic analysis for the Jawbone Run drainage basin.
City Engineer Jay Hollen, Sanitation Department Superintendent Ethan Crosten, Public Works Director Jerry Arnold, Chief Water Plant Operator Kelly Arnold, Potesta & Associates, Virco Contracting, Pro Contracting, and Tradeworx, as well as all members of our Water, Sanitation, Streets, and City Hall staff all worked together to complete the projects listed above. We don’t often consider the service lines running underneath our streets, or the weekly waste collection schedule, but their efficiency and effectiveness are crucial to the livability of our city.
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. Oh, and by the way, I’m not talking about the sunrises and sunsets in the Winter months. If it were mid-June, when the sun comes up at 6 am and doesn’t go down until after 9 pm, 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 for her service. Amby and the team inside City Hall make it possible for all our skilled labor departments to function properly – all in an effort to serve our citizens, business owners, and visitors.
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. This year, we will also look forward to hiring our first-ever Event Center Manager. City Recorder Randy Sanders, Director of Finance & Administration, and I will be reviewing applications this month as we work to add yet another dedicated team member to our city administration family.
As you can see, once again, we have been extremely busy, but we wouldn’t want it any other way! The team I reference above includes more than 100 men and women who come to work here every day – all for one goal: to best serve our community. Our City Council is extremely proud of, and thankful for each one of you! We sincerely thank you, ALL of you, for everything you do! You make us the city we are, and the city we want to be.
Over the course of this next year, we must continue the momentum as we work to improve our city parks one at a time. The City Park on Park Street, thanks to the planning of our newly created all-volunteer Parks & Recreation Board, is going to look and feel much nicer this Spring. We’re excited to bring pickle ball, paving, new lighting, a newly renovated pavilion, a regulation-size basketball court, a trail system, and improved playground equipment to the park by May 1. Once the City Park is completed, five other public parks will also receive our attention. I am confident that this energetic and dedicated group will continue doing a great job!
Additionally, we also have a much-needed streetscape project to beautify sections of Ritchie, Fayette, and Pocahontas Streets, as well as the completion of infrastructure improvements on Shawnee Drive. Member of City Council, as we work on our 2024-2025 general fund budget, I am asking that we continue prioritizing robust investments into infrastructure improvements. Our citizens and business owners deserve our attention to detail on all of our nearly 300 streets.
Outside of infrastructure projects, we as a community MUST rally behind the students, teachers, staff, and administrators to support Upshur County Schools through our prayers, our presence, and our positivity. The vitality of this community is dependent on it. 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 one the finest in the state. Upshur County is full of blue and white, Buccaneer pride, and if there was ever a time to let that pride be known, it’s now. I am calling upon everyone in Upshur County: on May 14th, PLEASE vote YES. Vote yes for the students; vote yes for our teachers; vote yes for our bus drivers; vote yes for our coaches; vote yes for our community! We cannot punish them for errors they didn’t make, for that only hurts us all. A child has one chance at an education, and I believe it takes a village. Let’s be that village, and let’s carry our Buckhannon-Upshur blue and white stripes to the poll this Spring. Our future depends on it.
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 a 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. With the right decisions and a strong heart and dedication, we continue to be well-positioned for the future. Let the world have no doubt, that we ARE one of the very “BEST Small Towns in America!” It is truly my honor to serve my hometown, the City of Buckhannon, West Virginia, 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 an exciting 2024!
May God continue to bless our City of Buckhannon, the State of West Virginia, and the United States of America!