This week Elkins City Council will conduct a public hearing and the third and final reading on its plan to increase fire fees for residents living within the city limits of Elkins.
At the first two readings, I was the only dissenting vote. The citizens of Elkins don't need another tax increase. Elkins fire fees should be shared by all who are covered by the Elkins Fire Department. If everyone living in the primary responding area paid their fair share, then the fees actually could go down.
The city of Elkins fire expenditures for the fiscal year 2011 were $483,000. The collected fees from residents inside the city limits for fiscal year 2011 were $330,600.
Randolph County is divided into 10 fire districts. The Elkins Fire Department has four paid fire fighters who service the Elkins fire district. The collected city fire fees go to the operations of the city fire department (civil service) which pays the wages of the three paid firefighters and the fire chief. It also pays for the truck insurance. Elkins fire district also has a Volunteer Fire Department that houses trucks and equipment in the Elkins Fire Department.
If you have a fire and live in the fire district, but not in the city, you receive limited service (two trucks and 12 men). Any other trucks and men would be provided by mutual aid agreements with other departments.
The Randolph County Commission receives federal and state money that it chooses to divide equally among the volunteer county fire districts, but not the Elkins Fire Department, thereby handing out $14,500 to each of the voluntary ones. Nobody pays a fire fee outside Elkins' city limits.
In response to my recommendation to wait to find alternative funding sources, City Council determined that it would be easier for the city to develop its budget for the next fiscal year if the increase is in place. In other words, the easiest way for the city to make its budget is to raise fire fees. It's not the only way.
The fairest way to handle this is to charge everyone in the primary responding area a fire fee and in turn they would receive full fire service. Let your City Council representative know how you feel about this by attending the public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall. The best way to get your council representative's attention is to show for a public hearing.