By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As a locality that will turn 112 years old next year, the city of Welch is rich in history and culture. And many of the existing landmarks in the city have been standing at their current locations for more than a century.
For example, the McDowell County Courthouse was erected in 1894, and the McDowell County National Bank — now more commonly known as MCNB Bank — has been at its current location in the downtown since 1901. In fact, many residential and commercial dwellings in the city haven’t had an address change in decades.
That’s now all about to change. And it’s creating some confusion in the process.
The county’s 911 center is working to implement a rural addressing and mapping upgrade for the city as required under the new state-wide addressing and mapping program. City officials agreed to participate in the address and mapping upgrade back in 2003, but have recently learned that as many as 90 percent of all commercial and residential dwellings in the city may have to undergo an address change, according to City Attorney Danny Barie.
“The county’s 911, which is the county’s addressing and mapping system, basically wants to implement the rural system which is where you would start from fresh,” Barie said. “They want to impose that on the city of Welch. Basically by my calculations 90 to 95 percent of the addresses in Welch will change.”
Barie said the city understands and supports the mandatory address upgrades. However, city officials are hoping to accomplish it in the least disruptive way.
“I don’t think anyone in the city of Welch, or the county, has a problem with what they are doing,” Barie said. “If you don’t have a physical address, or street name or road name, your road and street is assigned an official name. And everyone in that street or road is given an address based upon the origin of the road.”
Barie said the program aims to eliminate duplicate street addresses while also improving the response time of emergency responders.
“You are supposed to eliminate duplicate street names in a jurisdiction,” Barie said “So if you have a Maple Street or Maple Avenue, one has to be eliminated. It can be very easily misunderstood on radio traffic. It’s all designed to avoid confusion, and to make it more precise and accurate.”
But with that being said city officials are hoping to hear from residents of Welch about the proposed changes. And they are willing to advocate a third-party approach, or even doing the 911 addressing in-house with city crews, if it would result in a fewer number of residential and commercial address changes.
For example, if the address at the McDowell County Courthouse changes, the county’s voter registration roll also would have to change. And the same with county tax records, according to Barie.
“It’s just going to have a pretty big impact, and there are a lot of folks who are concerned with that impact,” Barie said.
Barie said three options remain. They include letting 911 do the address change as planned, contracting with a third-party to complete the address and mapping changes, or designating in-house city employees to complete the process.
Barie said choosing a third-party, or using in-house city crews to complete the process, could substantially reduce the number of citizens and business owners who would be impacted by the address and mapping change. He said the city has also contacted the West Virginia Municipal League to see if there are any other cities in the Mountain State who have gone through or are facing the same dilemma as Welch.
“Some changes still have to be made,” Barie said regardless of which of the three options are selected. “We have duplicate street names. There are some streets where numbers are not in place. And those addresses have to be eliminated.”
Barie said city officials want to hear from their citizens regarding the 911 address upgrade.
A public meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Herzburn Room at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch to receive input on the 911 addressing upgrade process.
“It is an important issue, and I want the people to be informed,” Barie said. “There is some misinformation going around. This is a good place for people to get good accurate information on what all of the proposals are.”
Barie said all concerned citizens are urged to attend the Wednesday, Oct. 16, public meeting.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com