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Morgan Co. Fire Board proposes fee increase

May 21, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The Morgan County Fire Board on Friday requested an increase to the fire protection service fee from the Morgan County Commission beginning in fiscal year 2007-08.

Mark Miller, chairman of the Morgan County Fire Board and chief of the South Morgan Fire Department, said the proposed increase would bring in $150,000 per year.

Miller said there has been no fee increase since 1988 in the four all-volunteer county fire departments, but the volume of calls has increased due to new homes and property owners in the county.

Sandy Kesecker, executive director of the Morgan County Fire Board, said the average fee for a house less than 2,000 square feet would more than double, from $21 to $43.

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Morgan County Commissioner Tommy Swaim said the alternative to a fee increase would be paid firefighters, but that would be expensive. Miller said that would cost more than $1 million a year.

Another problem facing the county's fire departments is a decrease in the number of volunteers.

In 1990, there were 157 volunteers, but there only were 113 in 2005. Miller said the volunteers spend many hours raising funds to operate the departments.

"This is all volunteer, and people have full-time jobs, too," Miller said. "The firefighters are strapped for time due to fundraising in order to survive, and still need more training."

Miller said the state requires 100 hours in the first year in order to be an approved Firefighter I and additional hours are required for each subsequent level.

Fire Board member J.J. Steiner said the requirements on the volunteers "would not be difficult if fundraising was not so time consuming."

"We don't have the manpower to knock on doors to get funding," Steiner said.

Miller said only one out of five people who volunteer stay with the county's fire departments.

"You don't have to sell me on this," Commissioner Bob Ford said of the proposed fee increase. "It will be a bitter pill for the public to swallow, but I don't have a problem with this."

Ford said he thought the commission will "get beat up on this, but (the fee) has not been increased in quite a while."

Swaim said the issue will be put on the next meeting agenda and the commissioners would discuss setting up public hearings on the proposal.

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