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Public has another say on fire fee increases

March 27, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A small group of residents, business owners and fire officials voiced their concerns to the Berkeley County Commission at a public hearing Tuesday on proposed fire fee increases.

The commission made no decision on the increase.

The increase, proposed by the Berkeley County Fire Board and the Fire and Rescue Association, would raise residential rates for homes up to 2,500 square feet from $20 to $25; homes from 2,500 to 4,999 square feet from $25 to $30; and owners of homes larger than 5,000 square feet would pay $50.

Commercial fire fees would double under the proposal. Businesses would be required to pay between $100 and $1,000 depending on the size of their buildings.

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The increase would bring in an additional $400,000 a year, association officials said.

Berkeley County is served by five volunteer fire companies: Hedgesville, South Berkeley, Back Creek, Baker Heights and Bedington.

Representatives from all five companies attended the hearing.

Ed Calhoun, chairman of the Fire Service Board, told the group of about 25 people the fee increases are intended to meet the needs of the county for the next 10 to 15 years.

"The cost of providing service is increasing every year. We are not looking at today but projecting 10-15 years and this (fire fee increase) is one way of alleviating that concern," he said.

Sonny Spurgeon, owner of Spurgeon Trucking on U.S. 11, which was destroyed by fire in July 2001, said he agreed with the increase but was concerned about who will monitor the increase in revenue.

"I'll support the money if there's some kind of guarantee. We're the taxpayers and who's protecting us?" he said.

Falling Waters, W.Va., resident Al Sankey said the people in his neighborhood see the fire fee increase as a done deal, so they have no interest in attending the public meetings and hearings.

Burkhart took offense to the statement and told Sankey that attitude was the wrong one to take.

"This is not a done deal," Burkhart said.

Calhoun said mistakes are made, and "you can't criticize those valid human mistakes."

The Commission will discuss the issue at its 9:30 a.m. meeting on Thursday.

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