Jefferson County officials hear pitch for $108 fire fee

December 15, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency officials Thursday asked the county commission to adopt a residential $108 fire and ambulance service fee now, and tell property owners later that they'll have to pay it.

Commissioner Dale Manuel, a stalwart fee proponent, said he was ready to vote for it Thursday.

"We'd be hung out to dry if we don't hold a public hearing first," said Commission President Patsy Noland.

The commissioners, including Manuel, decided a hearing would be scheduled when the time came.

Ed Hannon, spokesman for the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency (JCESA), created in 2008 to oversee the county's volunteer fire companies and ambulance squads, told the commissioners he wants the fee in place by July 1.

The JCESA has its own building, 16 full-time and 10 part-time paid employees and several emergency vehicles to support the ambulance crews, said Doug Pittinger, executive director of the agency.

Projected income from the fee, which includes eight cents a square-foot for commercial property, would be $2.9 million a year, Hannon said. That money would pay for paid personnel to be stationed in the volunteer squads 12 hours a day to beef up fire and ambulance protection, especially in the more rural areas of the county.

JCESA officials have said that the county's seven volunteer fire companies, including those that provide ambulance service, are finding it harder every year to recruit enough volunteers to respond to emergencies.

Hannon also asked for the commissioners for $5,000 toward the cost of a consultant the JCESA hired to sell the fee to county residents.

Earlier the commissioners appropriated $3,000 for the consultant. The agency's original request was $25,000. The commissioners Thursday got their first look at a power point presentation prepared by the consultant designed to support the need for the fee. It will be shown to residents in a series of four informational meetings around the county.

Commissioner Lyn Widmyer said the presentation fails to properly explain the need for the fee.

Commissioner Walt Pellish agreed and suggested that Hannon fire the consultant and hire one who can do a better job.

Commissioner Frances Morgan said county residents need an opportunity to speak up on the fee proposal.

"People on fixed incomes will really suffer with this," she said.

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