OAK HILL – The city council has given a green light to a consulting firm for three improvement projects in the city.
At Monday’s meeting, a committee recommended that the council select Charleston-based The Thrasher Group as the consulting firm to oversee the projects over the coming months.
The projects include a planned overhaul of Oak Hill City Park, which will feature a new, professionally designed skate park, some new play equipment, a gazebo and other amenities. The focus of the park project is “strong community involvement,” said City Manager Bill Hannabass. “Community involvement is part of the consultant’s job.”
A second endeavor will involve expanding the Oak Hill Fire Department to include another bay for equipment. This includes administration rooms, laundry facilities and a weight room. Hannabass said the cleaning facilities will help as departments increasingly find themselves in situations dealing with pollutants while fighting fires.
Finally, a long-planned (more than a decade) sidewalk project is underway on Virginia Street. It will travel about a half mile from Jones Avenue to the former southern states.
In the past, the project has encountered “a lot of issues with utility companies, a lot of issues with keeping it ADA compliant,” and other scenarios that have caused delays, the city manager noted.
About $500,000 — grant funding from the West Virginia Division of Highways and also some federal dollars — was allocated at the time, Hannabass said. Inflation, meanwhile, has cut into this funding package, he said.
Hannabass is happy that the sidewalk project is ready to go.
“In December 2008 Tom Oxley (current councilman) was an outgoing city manager and I came here to work with him for a month and that was our big project – the Virginia Street sidewalk grant application,” he said. “[As a brand new city manager]the first thing I did was drive down Virginia Street and go door to door and say, ‘You’re going to get a new sidewalk.’ So yeah, I’m glad to see it.”
• Work continues at Needleseye Park.
An Oak Hill public works team was on site this week, building a pavilion to serve as a meeting place for visitors to the park, which is geared toward offering locals and visitors to Fayette County rock climbing, hiking, and mountain biking.
Approximately $500,000 in improvements will be made in the coming months, which will include hiking trails, a restroom facility, picnic benches, and a disc golf course in addition to the pavilion. Improved parking signage is also planned. The money for the work came through US Senator Joe Manchin’s office, Hannabass said.
According to Shaun Coleman, a public works employee, the trail will eventually stretch from the top of Needleseye to Minden, a distance of more than 2 miles. If all goes according to plan, the road will eventually be graveled and could later be used as a maintenance road for residents of the Minden community to use as an exit in the event of a flood.
Crews will be working at both ends of the area in the coming months, Coleman said.
“By the fall we should have it up and people walking on it,” he said.
In May 2019, the city officially named Needleseye Park. The West Virginia Land Trust partnered with Oak Hill to purchase 283 acres of land from Berwind Land Co. for public recreational use.
• A public hearing on simplifying the city tax fee structure is scheduled for April 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the city council chambers. According to Hannabass, the purpose is to discuss the proposed implementation of changes to the city’s B&O tax and municipal license fees. The first reading of the proposed changes took place at the March 14 Council meeting.
The proposal is open to the public Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the front entrance of Oak Hill City Hall.
Interested citizens are invited to participate in the public hearing and to comment in writing or orally on the proposed changes. Written comments should be sent to: City Manager William Hannabass, 100 Kelly Ave., Oak Hill, WV 25901.
If implemented, the result will be a flat municipal base license fee of $15, as opposed to the various tiers currently in place. Home improvement and contractor licenses will not deviate from the current $75 level. Shops selling alcohol have additional fees.
Under the proposed change, all royalties except for contractors and alcohol sales will be the same, according to city clerk Dazua Johnson. “It’s just going to make it easier and help a lot of people,” she said. “It’s going to be cheaper for a lot of people. For some it will be more expensive.”
The move will also make concessions to some “archaic language” in state code, such as B. Restaurants that are taxed based on how many seats or tables they operate.
Hannabass also said a loophole in the B&O tax regime related to rents would be addressed under the proposal. When it was first enacted for rental unit, residential unit and commercial licenses about five years ago, the council recognized at the time that there were situations where families might have a separate, smaller apartment adjacent to their home, and the council wanted families not punish this situation, he said. At the time, the city council decided to exempt a unit from B&O taxes, Hannabass said.
“If you owned three rental units, take your most expensive one, exempt it, and pay B&O taxes on the other two.”
That created a loophole that some owners took advantage of, he said.
“People who owned a lot of rental units started separate companies, they started multiple companies. Then, because we didn’t define it well, they took one apartment building (under one company) and then built several apartment units in another company name and freed another expensive building or unit. That’s not fair.”
• As of a second reading at the most recent hearing, Oak Hill will allocate significant resources to Fayette County Teen Court, Hannabass said. Going forward, $5 of all county court fines will be used specifically to operate juvenile courts.
• The council approved a site for a future veterans’ memorial, on the corner across from the Baptist Church on Main Street, next to Davis Tire and Mufflers. This is the site of what was once the Pure Oil Station, made famous by a visit by legendary country singer Hank Williams Sr. at the time of his death.
The project is made possible “through the generosity and kindness of the Jones family,” the city manager said. The family is in the process of donating the property to the city.
The memorial – for veterans of all wars – is in the design phase.
• Oak Hill has pledged a $2,500 grant to HubCAP, the Communities of Achievement Program sponsored by the West Virginia Community Development Hub.
According to Hannabass, it is a three-year program that helps with community involvement, community engagement and capacity building, and produces people in the communities as leaders. At a local level, this could encourage participation in projects like Oak Hill City Park and Needleseye Park, giving city leaders input and seeing more of the people involved. “And we need it badly right now,” said Hannabass.
The council felt the financial outlay was “money wisely spent,” he said.
• Considerations for one-way parking on designated streets in the city will take place in the coming months.
“We have several narrow streets in Oak Hill, some of which aren’t wide enough to park two cars on the street,” Hannabass said.
While motorists normally zigzag to get past parked cars along the way, the situation poses particular problems for firefighters and snowploughs. So the goal is to alleviate the situation in some way.
“No one knows the nuances of specific street parking better than local residents, so they’re going to have a lot of influence,” Hannabass said. “At the end of the day nothing can be done or there are some things we can do to help.
“Everyone who will be affected will do their part.”
• The city was notified earlier this week that it had received honorable mention status for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund’s 2021 George F. Ames PISCES Recognition for Achievement and Innovation in the SRF Creating Environmental Success.
The recognition was for the city’s sewer system upgrade and infiltration/inlet rehabilitation project, a $25 million project currently being completed.
“The extensive project, which has been undertaken by the City of Oak Hill, will significantly reduce the adverse impact on the local community,” reads in part a letter from Katheryn D. Emery, PE, director of DEP’s Division of Water and Waste Management .
• The city is also planning a community playground park near the post office in Minden, to be built on land donated by ACE Adventure Resort. A water problem is being addressed there.
• The council unanimously decided that there were three options for the future of City Hall: purchase of another building for renovation for city offices (the former BB&T building was mentioned among the locations mentioned), construction of a new City Hall from scratch, possibly in near the Virginia Street Police Station or renovate the current City Hall.
The financing was not discussed, said Hannabass.
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