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Berkeley County firefighters seeking fee increase

December 31, 2001

Berkeley County firefighters seeking fee increase



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - This week's Berkeley County Commission meeting is shaping up to be a busy one with a proposed fire fee increase, controversies surrounding Mountaineer Raceway and Sunday hunting all expected to be up for discussion.

Just a little more than a month after a $10 increase of the Berkeley County ambulance fee was approved by the commission, fire officials say they will go to the commission Thursday night to make a pitch for a series of increases to the county's fire fee.

The series of fee increases, which would generate about $157,000 more for the county's volunteer fire companies, is needed to help volunteer fire companies purchase the equipment they need, said Robbie Robinson, president of the Berkeley County Fire and Rescue Association.

Some of the county's five volunteer fire departments are still paying off expansions to their stations, Robinson said. Three fire trucks purchased for volunteer crews in 1995 are also yet to be paid for, Robinson said.

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One of the areas Robinson said he is concerned about is a cap on the fire fee that is allowed for businesses.

As businesses grow in size, they are charged higher fire fees until the fee reaches $500. When a business reaches 200,000 square feet, the $500 fee is assessed and it can not be increased, Robinson said.

"We don't feel that's right. They're putting the burden on us. QuadGraphics could put up four more buildings and it wouldn't cost them one red cent," said Robinson, referring to the huge printing plant in the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park that prints catalogs, newspaper inserts and other products.

QuadGraphics began business with a 439,000-square-foot building. An expansion announced by the plant earlier this year is expected to expand the plant's area to 2.2 million square feet.

Under the fire fee increase proposal, businesses that are 200,000 square feet or larger would be charged a $1,000 fire fee, Robinson said.

It is one of four business classifications that would see a doubling of the fire fee.

Businesses up to 2,500 square feet in size would see their fees increase from $50 to $100 a year; businesses between 2,500 square feet and 7,500 square feet would see an increase from $100 to $200; and businesses between 7,500 square feet and 20,000 square feet would see their fee go from $250 to $500, Robinson said.

Fire fees for homeowners would also increase, Robinson said.

Homes up to 2,500 square feet would see an increase from $20 to $25, and homes from 2,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet would see an increase from $25 to $30, Robinson said.

The proposal also calls for a new fee to be set for houses that are 5,000 square feet and larger, which are becoming more commonplace in some of the county's subdivisions, Robinson said.

The fire fee for those houses would be $50 a year, he said.

Commissioner John Wright said he sympathizes with the volunteer fire companies, adding that the cost of new equipment for the companies is staggering. At the same time, volunteer fire departments are limited in the amount of money they can generate and many of their fund-raising attempts have fizzled, Wright said.

Although Wright said he would consider a modest increase in the fire fee, he is not sure how commissioners Howard Strauss and Robert L. Burkhart feel.

"They will have to build their case," said Wright, referring to the firefighters.

The fire fee proposal is scheduled to come before the commissioners at 7:05 p.m. Thursday.

At 7:15 p.m., the commissioners are expected to hear an update about Mountaineer Raceway, a racetrack near Tabler's Station Road that has generated controversy over noise and other issues, Wright said.

The commissioners are expecting to get an update from attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, who has been trying to resolve some of the problems at the track where small cars and motorcycles are raced, Wright said.

At 8 p.m., the commissioners will accept comments from the public to determine how they feel about Sunday hunting.

Although hunters can currently hunt on private land on Sundays, the West Virginia Legislature recently passed a law that allows for individual counties to decide if they want to continue the practice. If counties want to discontinue it, the issue must come to a vote from the public.

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