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Jefferson County challenged to show need for fire fees

April 12, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mai.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Jefferson County Emergency Service officials were pushed at a public meeting Thursday to explain why a fire and ambulance fee they hope to put in place this year is needed.

The meeting was called by the Jefferson County Commission so residents could ask questions about a  proposed ordinance, which calls for an annual residential fee of $90 and commercial building rate of eight cents per square foot.

More than 30 people were in the audience, some of whom were JCEA officials and members of area fire companies.

Ed Hannon, JCESA deputy director, said the fees are projected to raise $2.9 million a year. The money would pay for, among other things, the cost of putting at least one paid firefighter in all seven of the county’s volunteer fire departments.

He said volunteer fire company officials are asking for full-time daytime coverage because it’s becoming harder every year to staff their stations at that time.

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The JCESA was created in 2008 as the designated agency to oversee the volunteer fire and ambulance companies. The agency hired a consultant to draft a five-year strategic plan to put the systems in place.

He projected a 75 percent fee collection rate. The other 25 would include those that the county commissioners exonerated and those deemed uncollectible. A collection agency would be hired to go after the latter.

Robert Aitcheson, a retired local attorney, did some homework that, he said, shows the agency would spend nearly $500,000 a year to collect the fees.

Included in that cost are $250,000 to run the business office, a $55,000 salary for the business office manager, another $90,000 for the salaries of three office clerks and $100,000 estimated for the cost of paying fees to credit card companies for residences and businesses who pay with credit cards.

He asked if this was an effective use of the money the fees would collect.

Hannon responded saying the proposed ordinance is still in the planning stages. “It’s fluid,” he said.

Aitcheson countered that if the agency officials wanted accountability they should educate the public and bring their proposal to a countywide referendum.

Stephanie Grove, the county commission’s attorney, has ruled in the past that fire fees are not subject to a referendum.

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