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Commission favors raising fire fees

April 01, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County Commission members said Thursday they favor increasing the county's fire fee but will work with the Fire Board and Fire and Rescue Association to modify rates.

Commissioner Bob Burkhart said the breakdown of the rates is inequitable.

"It is wrong we have 20,000 square feet and up at $1,000," he said.

He said the $1,000 fee could be applied to buildings of 50,000 square feet and up.

Burkhart and commission President Howard Strauss agreed the fee on commercial buildings should increase by 50 percent rather than the proposed 100 percent increase.

Burkhart said agriculture buildings such as barns and corn cribs should be exempt from the fee.

"The fire fee would be more than our taxes on the buildings, and that's wrong," he said.

Commissioners also requested some modification of residential rates.

They said the proposed $50 fee for residences 5,000 square feet and up should be changed to $40. The fee for residences from 2,500 square feet and up is currently $25.

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The proposed fee for residences up to 2,500 square feet is $25, a $5 increase, and the proposed fee for residences 2,501 to 4,999 square feet is $30.

"We need to prioritize fire. If we have the hundred-year fire like the hundred-year flood we won't be able to handle it," Commissioner John Wright said.

Strauss said his approval of the fire fee "is contingent on the elimination of the scratch time" - which requires companies to wait five minutes before responding to a fire not in their response area.

The emergency service Company 90 is manned by paid firefighters who can often respond to calls faster than the volunteer companies, but the scratch rule prohibits them from leaving the station until dispatched.

Strauss said, "If a home is burning down the public needs to have the best service we can provide."

Volunteer fire officials said they fear that the elimination of the scratch rule will create unnecessary competition among the companies.

The commissioners will vote on the fire fee increase sometime after April 18. The vote will follow a work session at which the commission, The Fire and Rescue Association and The Fire Board can work together to tweak the proposal.

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