Elkins, W. Va., November 20, 2020: On Wednesday, a demolition crew contracted by City of Elkins tore down a derelict structure at 506 South Randolph Avenue in Elkins. The demolition was authorized by a Randolph County Circuit Court order. The city does not have title to the property and so cannot auction it, but a city lien against it seeks to recoup approximately $40,000 in demolition costs at the time of any future sale.
The property at 506 South Randolph Avenue is one of several tracts of real estate located in Elkins that are part of the estate of Roger G. Fussell, who operated rental properties throughout the area until his death, in 2009. Because Fussell’s will remains contested, this property and his other real estate holdings cannot be distributed to his heirs and so remain the property of his estate, for which his daughter, Andrea Simmons, is the executrix.
Already vacant when it was severely damaged by fire in 2014, the house at 506 South Randolph Avenue was never repaired by its owner and its condition continued to worsen. City of Elkins monitored the property and repeatedly requested that the Fussell estate address the problems associated with the increasingly dilapidated and dangerous structure. After issuing multiple citations, city code enforcement condemned the structure, then sought court approval for demolition, which was granted late last year.
“Because of due process and other legal requirements for dealing with these kinds of properties, getting to the point where we can demolish can take years under the best of circumstances,” says Geraldine Roberts, Elkins City Attorney. “For a property owned by an estate that is still open because of various legal issues, the situation is even more complicated and takes even longer to resolve.”
Another source of delay for this project was the need for extensive asbestos abatement, a highly regulated, time-consuming, and expensive process.
“Testing for and safely removing a large amount of asbestos slowed us down on this one, but everything came together to get it taken care of this week,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “That house has been a longtime eyesore in a highly traveled area, so it’s nice to know it’s finally gone.”
It is an open question whether City of Elkins will ever be reimbursed for the approximately $40,000 in demolition expenses, a relatively high price tag for a residential demolition resulting in large part from the asbestos abatement.
“Even if the city demolishes a dangerous structure as an immediate safety hazard, we don’t automatically obtain title and might never recoup our costs,” says Roberts. “As a standard practice, we’ve placed a lien against this property, but that lien will not necessarily be paid at the time of any sale. For one thing, there may be other liens ahead of ours and frankly it is unlikely the property would sell for enough to cover our lien anyway.”
Roberts explains that demolitions like this one must often simply be budgeted for, like any other service cities provide, without expectation of reimbursement.
“We’ll seek every possible remedy that we can in this case, but unfortunately, a lot of the time cities and counties simply have to accept these costs as part of their responsibility to protect people from dangerous structures and help maintain the value of the surrounding properties.”
Elkins, W. Va., November 19, 2020: As city governments across the nation increasingly integrate digital technology into their administration and operations, it is becoming more and more common to find Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists among the ranks of municipal employees. City of Elkins is about to take this step as well. The city is advertising for its first GIS technician and hopes to bring a qualified candidate aboard within the next several months.
GIS is most commonly associated with mapping, and while mapping is a big part of what the city’s new GIS technician will be doing, there is much more to this field. GIS solutions can help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field, and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.
“A well-run GIS program can not only provide significant time and cost savings but also enable all kinds of new capabilities that can help us expand the information and services we provide to our customers,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager and the person who will supervise the new GIS technician.
For example, the City of Oak Hill has had a GIS program since 2011 and hired a GIS coordinator in 2014. As can be seen at www.oakhillwv.gov/opendata, and despite the fact that the Oak Hill GIS department continues to have only one employee, the city has steadily deployed a large number of GIS web applications, or services based on the city’s GIS data, that anyone with internet access can take advantage of.
Oak Hill’s free, GIS-based web applications include the Oak Hill Yard Sales App, a “Where Do I Vote” application, the Oak Hill Citizen Problem Reporter, a Street Paving Projects Dashboard, interactive ward and zoning maps, a portal for accessing data concerning an ongoing soil contamination issue that may threaten the community’s water supply, and many more.
“We have a whole list of our own projects waiting for the new hire, naturally,” says Pingley. “We’ll be bringing a new public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard online next year, and managing that will be a key part of their duties, as will managing the city’s address maps and database and coordinating data sharing with county addressing officials.”
One high-priority task for the new GIS technician will be to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently contained on old paper maps and in the heads of longtime city employees.
“Right now, we have to rely more than we want to on human memory when it comes to locating key pieces of underground infrastructure,” says Pingley. “It will be a big step forward to be able to start systematically mapping all of that so that all city departments can access the information.”
The GIS technician will also collect data on new infrastructure components as they go into the ground.
“Another early project where we will put this person to work is mapping the replacement remote-read water meters that are about to be installed throughout the city,” says Pingley.
Pingley says that this project offers a good example of the value available from the ability of a GIS database to associate nonspatial information, such as notes about recent maintenance work, with a geographic point, such as a given water meter.
“The value of having every one of these water meters in a GIS database is not just being able to see them on a map and locate them more easily in the field, it’s being able to easily access information about each one, like its installation date, maintenance history, and other details that can save our crews time troubleshooting problems or making maintenance decisions,” he says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”
Pingley says he is looking forward to exploring what GIS will be able to offer City of Elkins and the city’s residents, business owners, and other stakeholders.
“It’s fair to say that we are starting to really see the limits of what you might call the twentieth-century approach to mapping and geographic information,” says Pingley. “It will be great to see what Elkins can accomplish with twenty-first century mapping tools and the expertise to get the most value out of them.”
Elkins, W. Va., October 19, 2020: The 2020 Elkins Spring Cleanup event, postponed earlier this year, has now been cancelled, officials announced today. The event was postponed during the spring for safety reasons and now will not be rescheduled during 2020.
The initial postponement came during the first month of the coronavirus epidemic in West Virginia. The decision to postpone was based on public health recommendations and advice from the West Virginia Public Service Commission about reducing the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus on surfaces. Because of that postponement, the city missed the ideal window of opportunity for providing this courtesy service to city residents and businesses.
“The problem is really one of timing,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “Providing the Spring Cleanup service ties up our street department personnel for about two weeks straight. Spring is a good time for that, because by then we’ve usually wrapped up with plowing and other winter work but haven’t yet started doing street repairs and other typical summer work. At this point, it really doesn’t look like we can fit it in this year without sacrificing some projects that need to take a higher priority at this point.”
For households and businesses that need to dispose of large items now and cannot wait until next spring, one option is to request a special pickup. For information about special pickups, please visit: www.bit.ly/ElkinsSpecialPickup. Items can also be delivered directly to Tygarts Valley Sanitation or other licensed waste collection facilities.