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Rejecting fire fee would be false economy

March 08, 2002

In an attempt to keep its volunteers in training to fight fires instead of forcing them to raise money for equipment, the Berkeley County, W.Va., Fire and Rescue Association this week held two public hearings on a proposal to hike the county's fire fee this week. Voters should give the idea serious consideration, because going cheap now may lead to more expenses later.

Why? Because volunteers are getting harder to find as training requirement increase and more people commute out of the area to work.

That means a greater burden for those who do volunteer, because in addition to their firefighting duties, they must also participate in fund-raisers to buy equipment and maintain the stations.

The proposal would hike the fire fee for homes up to 2,500 square feet from $20 to $25 a year, while homes between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet would see an increase from $25 to $30 a year. A new $50 fee would be levied on homes larger than 5,000 square feet.

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For businesses, firms up to 2,500 square feet would see fees go from $25 to $50. Other business classifications would be doubled as well, to a maximum of $1,000 for the largest companies.

The proposal has drawn criticism from Commissioner Howard Strauss. In January he said he worried about those on fixed incomes who are already paying an increased ambulance fee and their share of a $27.8 million school bond issue. Nor does Strauss like the idea of raising small business fees.

The first issue could be dealt with by allowing those with incomes below a certain level to apply for an exemption from the increase. As to the second, the county should look at how fire insurance premiums can be reduced by upgrading fire service.

But the best argument for these hikes is that they will postpone the time when the county must look at a paid firefighting force. If a fee hike now will delay that until county revenues grow enough to cover it, it will be money well-spent.

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