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City council tables county’s donation to Buckhannon Fire  Department

Photo courtesy of the Buckhannon Fire Department Buckhannon Fire Department members respond to an emergency call.

BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Commission has offered a donation of $15,000 to the City of Buckhannon for the Buckhannon Fire Department for fire protection services within the BFD’s first-due area.

However, Buckhannon City Council tabled approving the resolution in December due to concerns over the wording.

Previously, the commission appropriated $15,000 annually to the City of Buckhannon as compensation for insurance and fuel for two county-owned fire trucks housed at the BFD. Those trucks have now passed from the commission to the Buckhannon Volunteer Fire Department per a previously signed agreement.

City attorney Tom O’Neill drafted a letter to the commission asking that the “resolution be modified to remove the language stating that the appropriation is made in consideration of fire protection within the unincorporated portion of the (full-time) department’s first-due area.”

The letter stated that, “The city’s view is that, should the city accept the appropriation as currently worded, such a reference may potentially be interpreted as to establish a contractual relationship as contemplated in West Virginia Code 8-15-3 and establish the limit of the city’s receipts at an unacceptably low level.”

The letter goes on to reference the “escalating” costs of providing fire protection.

“Facing escalating costs and an uncompromising need for service, the city has limited options,” O’Neill wrote.

The city has no immediate plans to implement a first due fire fee but it an option the city does not wish to waive, according to O’Neill.

“Although the proposed appropriation itself does not establish all of the requirements for a fire service contract under state law, our understanding is that in other jurisdictions similar language has complicated municipalities’ efforts to collect the “first due” fee,” the letter states. “The City of Buckhannon recognizes that imposition of a first-due fee would have ramifications for volunteer fire departs located in Upshur County; however, it does not wish to potentially foreclose that option by accepting the proposed appropriation as currently phrased.”

O’Neill goes on to state that a majority of county residents and over 90 percent of county businesses are located within the BFD’s first-due area.

The BFD is dispatched to hundreds of calls every month including a large number of mutual aid calls to areas primarily served by other Upshur County volunteer departments, according to O’Neill.

On Thursday, commissioner Sam Nolte noted the wording in the resolution had been cleared by the county’s attorney who did not see any problem but suggested the wording could be looked at again.

Commission president Terry Cutright added, “I don’t see any reason to change. They can either take the money or not take the money. That is up to them.”

Nolte said, “I’m fine with that, too.”

Commissioner Kristie Tenney said, “I would go with Terry on his statement. As a commission, I know it’s stated in the letter, we do recognize and I think we all value the public service that is provided in Upshur County — the fire departments and the police and all the folks that are first responders. We do appreciate that and that is the reason we had looked at giving this donation.

“My motion would be that we leave it as is and either the city would like to take that donation, or if not, let us know.”

Nolte seconded the motion and the motion passed.