The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

August 8, 2012

Raleigh County officials create fire levy fund

BECKLEY — A major step in distributing $20 million from the first-ever fire levy to primarily bail out struggling volunteer fire departments came Tuesday with the Raleigh County Commission’s approval of a special account.

And so far, there’s no dearth of requests from fire units asking for money.

In fact, fire levy coordinator Kevin Price said he has been swamped with a combined $17 million in requests from the 13 volunteer units, detailing their individual needs to keep departments operating.

“Absolutely, you have to do that,” Price said after the commission meeting.

“You can’t just go to the store and buy a big, red truck. It takes about a year to get them made.”

Price, who recently resigned as a captain with the Beckley Fire Department after 22-plus years in uniform, advised the commission that he is providing all units with a spread sheet to be updated monthly, listing every purchase made.

As coordinator, Price must approve all requests for money that accrues from higher real and personal property assessments, as stipulated in the five-year levy approved in May’s primary election.

To date, as new tax tickets have gone out, some $93,000 has been generated by the increased assessments, the commission noted.

“I had them create a wish list, for a five-year plan,” Price said.

“Needless to say, it’s going to take time. Some departments may only get $200,000 a year. This is just a budgetary process I was going through with them so that I know what to look forward to, as well as the commission, to approve all this stuff.”

With so much money already being sought, Price said it is obvious that many departments are hurting.

Imagine, he said, if 100 sets of bunker gear are needed in the first year alone, and that doesn’t cover needs that likely will surface in the remaining four years of the levy.

For instance, Price noted, the Coal City department recently was battling a house fire when its front line pumper, a 1970s era model, died on the spot. A replacement is expected Friday.

Under terms of the levy, fire units may use money from the levy to satisfy old debts that have plagued some of them for years, hindering efforts to maintain operational money.

Two signatures must be affixed to each check before an expense is approved.

“If they buy tires, or whatever, they will submit me the bills, and you’ll sign, and this will be reflected in their monthly report,” Price told the commission.

Fire departments have struggled to stay above water in recent years as equipment grew old and proceeds from fund-raisers diminished, while fuel costs have risen sharply, along with coverage for workers compensation.

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