Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 20, 2014

Mercer County Firefighters Association hopes commission will rework fire fees

by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — In a letter to the Mercer County Commission dated March 17, the Mercer County Firefighters Association renewed its request to the commission to restructure its 20-year-old fire fee structure and give the nine all-volunteer fire departments in the county some additional funding so they can meet the ever-increasing fiscal demands volunteer departments face.

“All the fire departments in Mercer County strive to attain the highest possible Public Protection Classification possible, but due to some of the criteria, such as water supply being outside the control of the fire department, we have a limited number of ways to affect our PPC which means that we must address the areas we can control,” according to the letter to the commission from Steven A. Sommers, president of the association and chief of the Matoaka Volunteer Fire Department.

Sommers explained that the present fire fee structure that has been in place for more than 20 years, charges residents a flat fee of $20 per residence regardless of the size of the residence and $50 for each business, also regardless of size. “The amount each fire department receives varies, but as an example, Matoaka Volunteer Fire Department receives $28,800 per year,” Sommers wrote.

Sommers provided an accounting of how Matoaka uses the funds provided by the county, and stated that all the financial challenges that the departments face has an impact on each of the fire departments “ability to effectively and efficiently serve the citizens,” Sommers wrote. “This is why we, the fire departments of Mercer County and the Mercer County Commission, must come together in solving this problem.”

Sommers said that he plans to present the letter to the Mercer County Fire Board in April, with the hope of gaining the board’s endorsement before approaching the commission. “I don’t think there’s any reason for us to get signatures again,” Sommers said. “I don’t think it does us any good.”

The fire association has made concerted efforts in the past — most recently in 2011 — to ask the county commission to revisit the fire fee structure, but Sommers said that the problem has become even more challenging. “We have sent this letter to our local legislators, and we have already heard back from State Delegate John H. Shott (R-Mercer) who supports us,” Sommers said.

“We have been rejected in the past,” Sommers said. “What we would like to hear from the commission is: ‘We’ll work with you.’ That’s all,” Sommers said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com