Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 9, 2012

Mercer firefighters hope commissioners will put fire levy on November ballot

PRINCETON — The general public rarely sees volunteer firefighters at work, but they’re out there at all hours of the day and night, working to save lives and protect property.

Steven Sommers, president of the Mercer County Fireman’s Association plans to press his case to the Mercer County Commission again on Tuesday, asking the commission to put the issue of a countywide fire levy on the November ballot to let county residents decide the issue.

“There was some misinformation in a column in the paper about what the firemen’s association wants to do,” Sommers said. “We have been pursuing a fire fee increase for the past 5 or 6 years, but when we saw that Raleigh County was able to achieve the same thing by passing a levy, we thought that might be a better way to go. The commission has not been very receptive to our request for changing the present fee structure to make it more equitable for all businesses and residents.”

Sommers said that it is incorrect to think that the firemen are seeking a raise in fees. “We’re looking to get a fire levy established to take the place of the fire fees.” He said the revenues coming in as a result of the levy will be administered by a central board and a central coordinator, and no individual fire department personnel will have any direct access to those funds.

“Each department would send in a request to the central board, the board will review the request and grant or deny the request based on the necessity,” Sommers said. “The only money that the fire departments would receive is the money from the state. This kind of system allows for more checks and balances. The board would be subject to an annual audit, and we would provide our books for the state auditor to examine.”

Sommers took exception to statements made by a columnist that county fire departments did not spend all the money available to them. “Only two of our 11 departments operated within budget last year,” Sommers said. “The others were in the red. The money we kept back was money we needed to meet unexpected expenses. Just like an individual’s checking account, we can’t just spend every penny we have in the bank.”

Sommers said that when the association made its presentation during the county commission last month, only one commissioner — Mike Vinciguerra — spoke. “I understand the concern in Bluefield, but it’s possible that this levy could let Bluefield get rid of its fire fees altogether.” Sommers said there was no additional discussion about the association’s request.

“The storm we had this past Friday should be an example of what we do,” he said. “Every department in the county had every available volunteer firefighter out working to help in what ever way we were needed. This isn’t a scare tactic, but I can imagine what it would be like without our volunteer fire departments in Mercer County.

“We’re trying to be understanding,” Sommers said. “Even in Princeton and Bluefield, we have an automatic aid agreement so there are always volunteer firefighters helping in the cities.”

Sommers said that the commission did not take action on the request. “If the levy passes, the city can cut its fire fee back,” Sommers said. “The levy works in Raleigh County,” Sommers said. “All we’re asking the commission is to put it on the ballot and see if the people would be willing to give it a try in Mercer County,” Sommers said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

 

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