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239 properties in Berkeley County to begin being billed for fire service

Additional accounts are expected to generate in the neighborhood of $95,000 to $100,000

April 25, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Beginning in July, owners of buildings used primarily for state governmental, educational, charitable or religious purposes in Berkeley County will be billed for a fire service fee after long being exempt.

Officials have identified 239 properties that the Berkeley County Fire Service Board believes are “billable” and those property owners will receive advance notice that they will start receiving a bill, board chairman Greg Rhoe told Berkeley County Council on Thursday.

The additional accounts are expected to generate in the neighborhood of $95,000 to $100,000, Rhoe said.

The fire board’s budget is about $1.8 million.

The notice to be sent to the affected nonresidential property owners asks that they review information compiled about their property and report any discrepancies with square footage or other data, according to a sample letter presented to county council members Thursday.

The county’s fire fee for nonresidential structures is based on square footage.

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“This information was pulled from multiple sources, some of it is dated,” Rhoe said. “It is the most accurate information that we believe we have available.”

Rhoe said after the meeting the additional revenue generated will not make a significant difference, but also added that “every little bit helps.”

The fire board has equipment replacement needs that cannot be met under the current budget, so the county’s five volunteer fire companies have to work with what they have for a longer period of time, Rhoe said.

The billing of the previously exempt property owners will bring the county’s fire service fee ordinance in line with other jurisdictions, including the City of Martinsburg, that already charge for churches and other non-residential buildings, Rhoe told county officials.

Federal government buildings or those used for federal government purposes and agricultural buildings, such as barns, will continue to remain exempt from the fire fee, according to the ordinance.

Revisions to the fire service fee ordinance that were approved in April 2012 provided for the previously exempt property owners to be billed by July 2014.

Rhoe said he made an unofficial pledge to county council member Elaine Mauck, who objected to fire fee increases last year, to implement the billing of nonprofits within one year instead of two.

Rhoe credited the assistance of County Engineer Kimberly Shrader and IT Director Gary Wine for making it possible.

“The official information (we had) was very, very scant,” Rhoe said.

As adopted last year, the current fire service fee for Berkeley County homeowners ranges from $35 to $65 per year, depending on the square footage of their house.

Nonresidential property owners, also depending on square footage, pay between $95 and $2,200 per year, if not more for the largest buildings, according to the ordinance.

The fee increases came after a study in 2011 projected about $4 million in equipment needs by 2016.

Major capital improvements are still needed at South Berkeley and Bedington volunteer fire departments’ main stations, and Rhoe said Thursday there could be some movement on one of the projects in the near future.

The fire board has yet to finalize their budget for the next fiscal year, but Rhoe said they also are looking at possibly replacing a major piece of equipment.

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