CHARLES TOWN, W.Va.—Jefferson County residents and businesses will get their first look at proposed fire service fees next week after a 4-1 vote Thursday by the County Commissioners.
A public hearing on the fees is schedule for 7 p.m. Thursday in the commissioners meeting room below the Charles Town Library at 200 E. Washington St.
The JCESA has been pushing to get the fees in place. At one point last year, agency officials tried unsuccessfully to get the commissioners to put the fees in place and inform taxpayers after the fact.
Much of Thursday morning’s discussion centered on an 18-page proposal drafted by Commissioner Patsy Noland that called for the JCESA’s dismantling, “thereby drastically reducing the administrative cost that consumes a large portion of the proposed fees to be collected from our citizens.”
If adopted, Noland said, her proposal would provide funding for uniforms and equipment for all paid firefighters, paramedics, EMTs hired to augment the county’s seven volunteer fire departments and buy a computer-aided dispatch system.
Noland dismissed critics’ claims that her proposal would reduce the level of emergency services. The goal is to increase fire and ambulance service during the day when there are fewer volunteers to handle emergency calls, she said.
“It would augment the volunteers, not compete with them,” which is what the JCESA does. “The ESA is not listening to the volunteers,” she said.
Many members of the volunteer companies worried that they would lose autonomy and their ability to raise their own funds if JCESA got too big, according to earlier reports. Director Douglas Pittinger and Assistant Director Ed Hannon, of JCESA, told the commissioners that was no longer the case, that the volunteers now support the agency.
Commissioners President Dale Manuel, the commission’s representative on the JCESA and its longtime supporter, argued against postponing next week’s hearing.
“They’ve been working on this for five years and now they can see the finish line moving away,” he said.
“If you move the hearing, it will discredit their hard work,” said Commissioner Lyn Widmyer, who supports JCESA.
Manuel, Widmyer, and Commissioners Walt Pellish and Jane Tabb voted to hold the hearing as scheduled. Noland opposed.
The JCESA would set up its own collection system for the fees. Property owners would receive separate annual bills.
As proposed, the fees will be based on square footage of residential and commercial structures.
The fee for residential units would be $55 for buildings up to 1,600 square feet up to $85 for buildings of 3,000 square feet or more.
Commercial rates range from $115 for a building up to 2,500 square feet to $2,200 for those up to 100,000 square feet with 30 cents added for every square foot beyond that.