BUCKHANNON- On Thursday the Upshur County Commission received correspondence from its legal counsel regarding the Upshur County Firefighter’s Association seeking an increase in the current fire fee. The county’s attorney, William Swann with Kay, Casto, and Chaney, responded with a letter to commission addressing many of the questions posed by the UCFFA about the processes and procedures required to update the existing fire service fee.
According to a previous article, the fire fee amount depends on several factors. For instance, the fire fee cost $50 for each tenant, lessee, or occupant of a commercial or institutional building. However, the fire fee for each residential unit in a rental building is $25. Owners of residential structures also pay $25 per building owned.
Swann said that a new fire service fee may be put into place, but to do so they have to follow the same procedures and requirements of West Virginia Code 7-17-12.
In order for a new fire fee to be set, according to Swann, “10 percent of the [county] population must sign a petition filed with the clerk of the county commission that they desire to impose an increased fire service fee. Thereafter, any proposed ordinance which would be enacted would have to be published as a Class II legal advertisement in the county in which the county fire board is located.”
However, if a large percentage of the county disagrees with the proposed increase, the new fire service fee may not pass.
“If 30 percent of the qualified voters in the county sign a petition and file it with the clerk of the county commission within forty-five days after the publication expiration protesting the increase, the increase may not become effective until it is ratified by a majority of voters at the next election” Swann continued.
If the new proposed fire service fee is attempted and it fails, the original fire fee will remain in place with no changes made.
In a previous article, UCFFA president and Adrian Volunteer Fire Chief Rick Harlow said, “The current fire fee that is in place has been utilized for over 15 years. The cost of providing all aspects of Emergency Services has increased significantly since the passing of the original fee.”
Another question the UCFFA had asked was if there was a way to try for a progressive fee that has a built in increase so they don’t have to go through the procedures of changing it numerous times. Based on West Virginia code there is no mechanism in place which allows for a progressive fee to be imposed. This is done so that any potential increase must go through the petition procedure, meaning the increase is supported by the public.
According to county administrator Carrie Wallace, no decision has been made as to if the UCFFA will proceed with the process required to increase the existing fire service fee. A meeting with the UCFFA will be scheduled to discuss possible options.