Mayor Robbie Skinner Delivers the State of the City Address
January 20, 2022, BUCKHANNON, WV: 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 this evening the many accomplishments we’ve celebrated over the past year together, and share excitement for future plans and goals we have in store for our City.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of serving as Mayor of the City of Buckhannon since July 1, 2020, and although I’ve shared a number of good times with you, we cannot deny that these past few years have been incredibly difficult for our community, nation, and world. When I filed to run for office in January 2020, a global, public health crisis was not on our radar screen. For many, the coming of the year 2020 represented positivity and hope – that the start of a new decade was going to represent growth and prosperity. Instead, by March 15, we were staring down what no one could ever imagine: businesses and schools closing, our annual Strawberry Festival, and just about every other community event was canceled, people being required to stay home, inter-state, national, and worldwide travel restrictions, borders closed, mask requirements, social distancing, losing connection with our families, neighbors, and communities. Those were dark times. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve made progress. Vaccinations have been developed, and I want to personally thank everyone who has been vaccinated and boosted, and I sincerely hope that if you have not, you will consider it, if not for yourself, for your neighbors, family members, and community.
This pandemic has hit our City Council particularly hard, when one year ago, we almost lost our very own Jack Reger, but we are grateful that he is with us, and able to serve our community. Our health is not something we should ever take for granted. We’ve also experienced scares from C.J. Rylands, Pam Bucklew, David Thomas, and former Council lady Mary Albaugh, whom we miss very much.
It’s true, this pandemic has tried everything possible to cripple us, but our City of Buckhannon has proven to be no match for it. Neighbors have made sure neighbors have had what they need when they’ve become ill. Our school system delivered lunches to students at their homes because the classroom doors closed for months at a time. Our healthcare workers never gave up, and they continue to give us their all each and every day, and for that, we are grateful. Our business community rallied to support each other, helping to pay one another’s rent or utility bills when times got tough, and also cover shifts in each other’s stores for employees and business owners who tested positive to make sure important sales weren’t missed. Our police and fire departments participated in drive through birthday and anniversary celebrations, and Santa Claus was escorted through our streets during the holiday season, bringing joy to our community; delivering small glimmers of normalcy among trying times.
Though many positives have taken place, we mourn the loss of many Buckhannon and Upshur County residents who contracted this terrible virus, but sadly, are no longer with us today. I would ask that you join me for a brief moment of silence as we think about those we’ve lost, and their family members left to carry on… Thank you.
As we embarked on 2021, we saw glimmers of hope. We enjoyed a scaled down, but very well-orchestrated West Virginia Strawberry Festival, the return of Festival Fridays in Jawbone Park, mask mandates and travel restrictions dropped, and spectators allowed back in to cheer on our Buccaneers. We welcomed new businesses to Downtown including Caroline & Company, Mountain Mama Marketplace, Evolution Bar & Grill, Argo Books, the Blaxxmith Shop and the Infamous Art Collective, Klie Law Offices, Blades’n Fades, Renee Preston Photography, Oink’s Barbecue, and continued expansion at Community Care of West Virginia. We’ve also made significant progress completing the Colonial Theater 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.
Although we are saddened that he’s leaving the Main Street business neighborhood, we also want to extend congratulations and well wishes to long-time businessman, Jake Andregg, owner of Andregg Jewelers on Main Street. Jake is the consummate gentleman who always operated under the principle of service above self; putting what was best for our community first and foremost. This world needs many more Jake Andreggs.
In October, disrupting our positive momentum, we saw tragedy. A fire ripped through 23 East Main Street, destroying four businesses, displacing a dozen residents from ruined apartments. In the midst of this devastation, however, our community did what it does best. Everyone pitched in, business owners helping business owners in neighboring structures carry out valuables, our Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Office of Emergency Management, and many Downtown neighbors supplied drinking water for our firefighters, and Domino’s Pizza donated dinner that night for all of the firefighters once the fire was out. Our water plant put all hands on deck to ensure the water pressure would remain high the entire time. Our street and police departments closed streets and provided traffic control to keep everyone safe.
I can tell you that, as Mayor of my hometown, that was a heartbreaking day. I love this City beyond words, and a significant fire Downtown has always been my worst nightmare. It hurt, and it still hurts, but it will not take us down. We saw our worst that day, but more so, our best. Hopefully soon, the eyesore will be removed, to allow for new growth!
I want to 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 most notably achieved full CALEA Accreditation (that is the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies). This is a HUGE honor, we could not be more proud of our officers for all their hard work and dedication to seeing this process through, and continuing to maintain this status. Councilman C.J. Rylands introduced CALEA to the department a few years ago, Chief Gregory embraced it, and working with myself, Recorder Randy Sanders, Councilman Rylands, Finance Director Amby Jenkins, City Attorney Tom O’Neil, and Fire Chief J.B. Kimble, we received the good news in July 2021. We extend congratulations on a job well-done once again!
Additionally, we added three new police cruisers to our fleet, and upgraded both the body and patrol car camera system so that both cameras would synchronize with one another. Work has continued with the Mountain Lakes Dog and Violent Crimes Taskforce, which connects our department to other law enforcement agencies within our region. Our partnership with West Virginia Wesleyan College continues as the department hosts interns and volunteers from campus throughout the year. The VIPS organization (Volunteers in Police Service) also played an integral part in our department gaining accreditation – committing over 2,000 volunteer hours for a wide variety of events, saving the City $52,000. Finally, who could forget AROS! We now have a K-9 officer under the care of Patrolman Will Courtney. He’s been a welcomed addition to our department. The department looks forward to improving staffing numbers and continued training and development in 2022.
CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT:
The Buckhannon Fire Department responded to 1,293 calls for service in 2021. Under the leadership of Chief J.B. Kimble and Captain Joey Baxa, they continue to progress on their own accreditation, CFAI, or the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. This process is quite a bit different than CALEA, because the base layer of the accreditation process is collecting three years of consistent data. Training is also a very large part of the fire department’s everyday work. This year alone, 3,787 training hours were logged. Station coverage by volunteers was also extremely high. A total of 5,648 hours of coverage were provided to our community by the volunteer members. Additionally, the total number of incidents responded to by our volunteer members was 2,740 that average to over 144 calls per volunteer member.
Our fire department does more than just fight fire. Our staff were involved in four return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) events. These incidents are cardiac arrest incidents where individuals are resuscitated – usually with by-stander CPR and fast in the field medical treatment. This type of incident is part of our organization becoming a Heartsafe Community.
Some of the goals Chief Kimble has for our City fire department include: Continuing the accreditation process of improving our services to our community. The Insurance Service Organization (ISO) will be here in 2022 to evaluate our fire department, our water system and County 911 center. The lower the score we achieve (scale of 1-10), the lower insurance premium payments will be for residents and business owners. We receive points to lower our score by improved staffing, which we have done by authorizing the hire of three additional, full time firefighters, including our city’s first female firefighter. We also always need to be working to add and improve equipment. Our new engine will be here very soon, and we are beginning the process of constructing our very own training facility.
Fire departments always work best when we engage with our community. That is why we are always looking to recruit new volunteer members, continue to nurture our relationships with both West Virginia Wesleyan College, Upshur County Schools, and all other fire departments in Upshur County, the local firefighters association, law enforcement, and Upshur County EMS.
CITY SANITATION DEPARTMENT:
We welcome new Sanitation Department Director Ethan Crosten! Ethan and his two crews are already busy! Current projects include:
33 West Extensions: During the past year, the sanitary department was able to complete the extension along US 33. This project provided sanitary sewer service to residents and business owners on the North side all the way to the Smitty’s Suzuki location, and many new potential customers on the South side.
North Spring Street: This was a major upgrade project that was long overdue. The storm and sanitary sewers ran together all the way to the treatment plant. The old clay tile in the street had failed allowing sediment and infiltration in the system. This project installed a brand-new storm sewer system and an upgraded sanitary system from Main Street all the way down North Spring Street.
Generators: Through grants, the sewer department had transfer switches installed at all pump stations. This allows a portable generator to power the pump station so in any emergency the stations can operate, allowing sewage to always get to the treatment plant. New generators will also be installed at the plant and major pump stations to allow there to be no down time in the transfer of power in the event of an emergency.
Maintenance Work: Those being the two major projects, the department has also been busy maintaining the existing system. It is a top priority of the sewer department to respond to each sewer call and make every attempt to address the issue. We have made many small repairs improving the overall integrity of our system and plan to continue to do so.
Future projects include an overhaul of the Taylor Street stormwater system, improvements to the East Main Street and Florence Street intersection, Swisher Street, and Shawnee Drive sanitation system reconstruction.
CITY WATER DEPARTMENT:
Chief Operator Kelly Arnold and his crews have also been working hard to make improvements to both the plant and our water system in general. Specifically, they’ve installed an early warning water quality monitoring system that will alert the plant from upstream in the Buckhannon River if there are contaminants headed toward our intake valve. New lighting has been installed in the basement of the plant, as well as mission boards have been updated. Variable Frequency Drivers (VFDs) finished at high service pumps, and the intake pump motor and pump have been rebuilt. Out on the streets, the water line in front of Feola’s Flowers was replaced with PVC, and abandoned 500′ of 4″ cast iron pipe. Services on Spring Street were transferred over to 18″ water main, and 530′ of 4″ cast iron was abandoned.
Some of the goals for the department include: installing meters at Valley Green Apartments, install new carbon feeder, install new filter media, install a new Tennerton Booster Station, rehabilitate the Tennerton Water Storage Tank near the high school, and replace the Island Avenue line.
CITY STREET DEPARTMENT:
Our Public Works Director Jerry Arnold and Street Superintendent Brad Hawkins led our transition as we purchased a new, state-of-the-art street garage facility across from our Waste Transfer Station on Mudlick Road, and left our outgrown facility on Factory Street. Our new facility is over five acres, and has over 40,000 sq. ft. of space under roof allowing for the expansion of the Street Department activities, and accommodating the Waste Collection Departments truck shop with a shared welding shop. Street crews completed about 5,200’ of new ADA compliant sidewalks on West Main Street, Smithfield Street, North Spring Street, and North Kanawha Street. Seven residential and commercial structures were also razed to create opportunity for new growth.
New street signage continues to be a priority. We have installed brown, historic-looking signs throughout our Central Residential Historic District. All other street signs throughout the city will also receive a facelift. We continue to create and improve upon public space on Main Street. We are also currently working on the construction of a new 30’ x 130’ city greenhouse, constructing our salt shed at the new location, and completing the organization and storage of materials from the move to the new facility.
Jerry and Brad’s goals over the next construction season will be to complete both the North Kanawha and North Spring Street corridors with new sidewalks, allowing for parking on both sides of North Kanawha Street, and the installation of period street lighting – similar to the lights that are on Main Street. Although the North side of the Gateway West project has been completed, we will begin working on the South side of West Main Street, mirroring the new sidewalks, and period lighting that already exists across the street. We will be conducting street assessments in the Spring months for additional paving after July 1. In the Jawbone Run area, we are working with our consulting engineers to complete a hydrology study of the drainage way to formulate a plan to minimize flooding during major rains. We will be moving our Waste Garage to facilitate the creation of a fire training facility. We have applied for grants from the WVDOH for sidewalk projects on Morton Avenue from Route 20 North to First Street and along Route 20 North from Morton Avenue to Lowe’s.
We chose to contract out street paving this year. Although we have been able to complete a few of the streets outlined in the priority list, Cooper Asphalt still needs to complete Latham Street, North Spring Street, North Kanawha Street, and a few areas in North Buckhannon, and over on Upper and Lower Drive.
STOCKERT YOUTH AND COMMUNITY CENTER:
We continue to make advances at the Stockert Youth and Community Center, as we now have a rendering of what the potential new multipurpose center will look like situated on East Main Street. Deborah Brockleman and her team do a fantastic job with Stockert programming. We’re looking forward to more exciting news ahead for the new facility project.
In addition to the department heads listed above, Finance Director Amby Jenkins, City Attorney Tom O’Neil, City Engineer Jay Hollen, and Building Code and Enforcement Officer Vincent Smith all play integral roles in taking our projects from initial discussions to finished products. Our team includes nearly 100 men and women who come to work all for one goal: to serve our community.
As you can see, we have been extremely busy, but we wouldn’t want it any other way! Myself, and our City Council cannot thank our directors, administration, staff, and crews enough for all of the hard work put in for the citizens and business owners each and every day!
Over the next year, one of my 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. The good news is, our Planning Commission, led by Dr. Susan Aloi, is already making public recreation a priority, and I’m excited to be a part of the discussions!
Finally tonight, I am thankful for my colleagues on this City Council. C.J. Rylands is the Executive Director of Create Buckhannon, and should be credited for much of our Downtown area’s success over the years. Pam Bucklew is a longtime businesswoman, and helps lead our Downtown decorating committees each year. Jack Reger has an eye for our facilities, and has helped us prioritize the maintenance and upkeep of City infrastructure. Dave Thomas brings financial stability and oversight to Council. We have much less expensive health insurance for our employees thanks to his efforts. Shelia Lewis-Sines is brand new to our team, replacing long-time Councilwoman Mary Albaugh. We’re excited to have her join us, and appreciate her perspective on City projects. Randy Sanders, our City Recorder, is an invaluable asset to our City Council. From relocating the Miss West Virginia USA Pageant to Buckhannon, to applying for, and landing the World Association of Marching Show Bands Competition, coming to Buckhannon in July 2023, Randy is always looking for opportunities to put our City on the map!
As you can see, each member brings a wealth of knowledge and unique perspective to the table. No, we don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Our community is a better place because of the discussions held here, and the diverse opinions and backgrounds that guide us forward. To quote Councilman Rylands, “healthy communities have to be willing to have tough conversations in order to continue on the path of ascension.”
And so, to the citizens and business owners of this wonderful community, I am proud to report 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 the City of Buckhannon as your Mayor, and I cannot thank you enough for your support, your prayers, and your encouragement. Thank you so much!
Mayor, City of Buckhannon