By Wayne Sheets
Contributing Business Writer
By this time next week, Elkins will have a new mayor and a new member or two in its City Council. I extend a warm "thank you" to our outgoing mayor of the past six years - Judy Guye.
While we may not all agree with everything Judy did or with all of her policies, I personally think she did what she sincerely believed to be in the best interests of Elkins. Many of the decisions made by our elected representatives are based on information that is not fully available to everyone outside government at the time. This, incidentally, holds true at every level of government. Because of this, many times the decisions made and policies implemented are misunderstood by the constituency, only for the reality of those decisions being understood later.
One must admire Judy's determination and dedication to serve her community. She has not only served as mayor but as county commissioner and on countless committees and in other capacities in her efforts to make Elkins a better place to live, work and enjoy life.
Madam mayor, thank you for all you have done for the city of Elkins and the surrounding community. Your efforts will not soon be forgotten. You have my sincere best wishes for your retirement - which I suspect will soon be interrupted by your desire to be of service to your, and our, community.
Congratulations to Mayor -elect Duke Talbott and the others who expressed their desire to serve the community and were chosen to do so in the last election. They are charged with making the community an even more desirable place to live and to find ways to strengthen our local economy. These are formidable challenges.
There has been much effort over the past two and a half or three years to making Elkins a tourist destination. We are off to a good start. We cannot, however, just sit back and wait for things to happen - we must continue these efforts as aggressively into the future as they have been in the recent past. Many things need to be accomplished.
For those who may not know, Elkins was recently selected to participate in the On Trac program. Successful completion of this program is the first step to becoming named to the Main Street program. The mission is to empower people, organizations and communities to achieve ongoing downtown and neighborhood district revitalization. The comprehensive Main Street Four-Point Approach is organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.
This program will enable the city to continue its journey toward creating a more prosperous shopping district by incorporating those improvements that make the town a much more esthetically pleasing place to work, live, shop and relax. It will not happen, though, with the efforts of just a few - it must have the help and cooperation of every single merchant, restaurateur and service establishment in town.
For this program to succeed, the mayor and City Council will have to design and implement enforceable ordinances that serve for the betterment of all. Enforcement of those already in effect must begin by, for one thing, holding pet owners responsible for cleaning up after their animals along city streets. I have been witness to many occasions of people walking their pets along the streets and failing to clean up the mess after them.
One needs only to walk along Fourth Street adjacent to the YMCA to see the dire need for either an ordinance to remedy this problem, or the enforcement of one that may already be on the books. Elkins will never have the ambiance conducive to inspiring our visitors to return for second and subsequent visits unless this and several other issues of this nature are successfully addressed.
Another need I hear discussed repeatedly is for zoning laws within the city. I'll be the first to admit that all West Virginians are a fiercely independent people who don't like being told what to do or how to do it. The residents of Elkins are no exception. On the other hand, for Elkins to continue to grow and become the "destination" everyone wants it to be something has to be done to clean up and dress up some of the buildings already in existence. There also needs to be an enforceable statute that prescribes appropriate architecture, esthetic standards and type of businesses permitted in remodeled and new construction. One only has to take a quick trip down Harrison and Randolph avenues to see the need for this change in policy.
Many folks are disgruntled, and who can blame them, by the dilapidated vehicles left in various stages of decay in parking lots and along the streets in plain view of the traveling public. Most think, and I agree, that if they are not licensed and serviceable the owners should be required to dispose of them in an appropriate manner.
Another issue one hears discussed repeatedly is the expansion of the city's boundaries. The argument presented by those who oppose this action is that those who would be affected already have all the services and conveniences the city has to offer. Some have asked, "Why should we pay an additional assessment to the city when they have nothing to offer for the additional tax?"
Apparently, those of this persuasion are not aware of the additional thousands of dollars of grant money the city would be eligible to receive if the population were to surpass the 10,000-resident threshold. I have not heard a specific amount mentioned, but observations seem to indicate that the additional money would be quite significant. Doesn't it seem reasonable to assume that much of this money would be used for infrastructure such as street repair in those areas that are presently outside the corporate limits. Consider, too, how badly the city - and surrounding area - needs a new water and sewer system. It must surely be costing as much for repeatedly repairing a system that has far outlived its life's expectancy than it would cost to replace it with a new and modern system.
You might ask what right I have to voice these concerns. While I agree with them, I am merely the messenger. I do not live in Elkins, but it is my town as much as it is anyone else's in Randolph County. All one has to do is stop just about anyone who lives in Elkins, or any business owner, and mention any one of these issues and a lively discussion ensues - immediately. The one emotion that is always mentioned is pride. The questions are asked where is the pride of ownership and where is the pride that comes from living in a town that is esthetically pleasing with a sound infrastructure and a strong and vibrant economy?
Granted, we have a relatively strong economy considering the state, national and world economy of the day. There is, however, much concern that if these issues, and several others, are not soon addressed in a positive manner, it won't last.
There are thousands of visitors already slated to come to Elkins this summer. According to officials of the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, they already have more tour buses scheduled to come to Elkins than they had during all of last year.
This is great but if people don't like what they see when they get here, they aren't going to be interested in coming back.
Eventually the pool of those that have never been here will dry up. What do we do when there are no more first-time visitors? Our economic future depends on repeat customers. Without them, we have no future.
These are but a few of the challenges facing our new administration. Its action, or lack thereof, will determine the economic future of our community.