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Jefferson Co. official questions money requests, budget of emergency agency

October 27, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Like literature’s Don Quixote, Jefferson County Commission President Patsy Noland stood alone Thursday questioning funding sources and expansion plans for the county’s Emergency Services Agency.

Noland questioned whether the ESA — the umbrella agency that oversees the county’s seven volunteer fire companies and its ambulance services — should be disbanded and replaced with direct funding by the county commissioners.

Noland was rewarded for trying to cast light on the fiscal workings of the agency with snickering from some of the agency members and supporters present at the meeting.

“You can sit there and smile and make your little remarks,” Noland said, “but the public has a right to know why the ESA has a $1.9 million budget.”

She said the commissioners need to determine who’s best to appropriate money to the agency and the fire companies and explain why it’s needed.

Her arguments won little support from her four commission colleagues, all of whom support the ESA’s desire to introduce a fire fee in the county.

The ESA’s current budget is slightly less than $2 million, all of which comes from the county commission. At the end of its five-year plan, the budget jumps to $4.4 million, ESA President Pete Kelley said.

A countywide fire service fee would be needed to fund the budget by that time. No details about the fee have been released.Noland suggested that a fire fee proposal be decided by the voters in a referendum, but that got no support from her fellow commissioners.

“This $1.9 million represents a big chunk of the county’s budget,” Noland said. “We need to get a grip on where the money is going. We need discussion and conclusions on how to best fund the ESA and the fire companies.”

The commissioners give each volunteer fire department $61,000 a year in operating funds. The state kicks in another $44,000 to bring the total to $105,000, Kelley saidThat comes to a third of what a fire department needs to operate for a year, he said.

One option would be a special levy that Kelley said raises money for five years with the chance that it would not be renewed by the voters.

Noland conceded she also prefers a fire service fee over a levy that is voted on by residents.

She questioned the need for the agency to hire an outside consultant to “educate” taxpayers on the need to support a fire service fee.

Kelley said the agency’s five-year plan calls for augmenting volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service personnel with paid members in firehouses across the county, especially those covering rural areas.

He said the agency did not get all the money it asked the commissioners for in the current year’s budget.

In a related matter, the commissioners Thursday voted to allow the ESA to spend $55,000 in county impact fees to buy an additional chase vehicle for use by a deputy recently hired by the agency.

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