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Berkeley fire companies ask for tax money

January 06, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County volunteer fire companies are asking for $50,000 from the Berkeley County Commissioners because their fund-raising efforts are competing with other groups.

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"Fund-raising activities have dropped off tremendously," Berkeley County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Robert W. Robinson told the commissioners Thursday morning.

With the growth in Berkeley County and the increase in fund raisers in general, it has been harder for fire volunteers to raise enough money for the volunteer companies, said Robinson, who is chief of the Bedington Volunteer Fire Department.

Robinson asked the commissioners for the funds for the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1. The $50,000 would be split evenly among the five companies to help pay for debt on new trucks and for equipment.

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For example, the state has mandated fire companies must provide each firefighter wth gear that meets tougher standards and can cost $1,200 to $1,300 per person, Robinson said after the meeting.

Robinson said he realizes the commissioners receive funding requests from other agencies and nonprofit groups.

"We feel we're entitled to be supplemented before everybody else. It's a survival tactic," Robinson said.

Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said the funding request should be directed to the fire board, of which he is a member.

"If we start doling out money to the fire companies and ambulance companies, then ... we'll start a precedent that won't end," Burkhart said.

The fire board distributes revenue from the county fire tax to the county's five fire companies: Bedington, Hedgesville, South Berkeley, Baker Heights and Back Creek Valley.

Since 1986 county residents have been charged a fire fee based on the square footage of their homes, with most residents paying $20 to $25 a year, Robinson said. Major industries pay $500 a year, regardless of how large they get, he said.

Robinson said the fire board doesn't have any excess funds, leaving it unable to help buy two fire trucks for South Berkeley and Back Creek Valley.

Commissioner John E. Wright asked if any of the five fire companies had big reserves, but Robinson said they do not.

All five companies use every penny and need more, Robinson said.

Halfway through the fiscal year Bedington has already spent 61 percent of its $60,000 budget, Robinson said. Bedington has the largest budget of the five companies, he said.

Commissioners President D. Wayne Dunham said the commissioners would take the budget request under consideration.

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