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Jefferson County fire companies request more money

February 19, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County fire officials asked the Jefferson County Commission Thursday to increase the amount of money it gives each year to fire companies.

About 30 representatives from Jefferson County's five fire companies packed the commissioners' meeting room.

The commissioners said they would try to find ways to increase the funding, possibly through video lottery money that Jefferson County receives from Charles Town Races.

Shepherdstown Fire Chief D. Lee Morgan called the $7,500 each company receives annually from Jefferson County "insultingly low" for the amount of sacrifice and time given by the volunteers.

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Independent Fire Co. President Don Clendening said the Commission provides 2 percent of his fire company's total $303,389 income. Most of the fire company's money is raised through fund drives and bingo, he said.

"If I had to pick the single most-complained-about issue among most volunteers, I would say that having to spend as much time raising funds as they do answering calls would be it," Clendening said.

"Many times I hear the comment that our elected officials take us for granted. They don't give a hoot about us, or the emergency services, so why should we?" Clendening said. "It has even been suggested many times to carry the keys and the titles down to this Commission and say 'Here you are. You own everything. You are welcome and we are out of here.'"

In 1978, a modern fire engine cost $78,000, said Independent Fire Chief Ed Smith. Now, a basic fire engine with required safety features costs $300,000.

The turnout gear worn by firefighters - protective coats, pants and helmets - cost between $200 to $300 in 1978. The cost now is $1,200, Smith said.

The costs have increased in part because of safety advances, which makes the equipment more expensive, but also more effective in protecting firefighters from injury and death, Smith said.

County Commission President R. Gregory Lance said the county may be able to increase the amount provided through video lottery funds.

Video lottery has generated about $170,000 for the county since September and the county commissioners will discuss how it will be distributed at budget meetings in March, Lance said.

The commissioners said they may have to ask the state legislature to come up with other revenue sources to help pay for fire and ambulance service.

Lance said he does not believe ambulance and fire fees are an effective way of raising funds.

If the county provides more funds for the operations of the fire companies, the county would have to have some degree of control over how the money is spent to protect the public's money, said County Commissioner James G. Knode.

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