Raleigh County voters doused the most trouble some fire volunteer departments have faced in years — a financial one.
Now that the levy is history, gaining a 63.36 percent approval, the next task is for the Raleigh County Commission is to hire a coordinator to oversee spending by the 13 volunteer units, and the Beckley Fire Department.
Toward that end, Commissioner Dave Tolliver says the levy will likely be a topic of discussion at the May 22 meeting.
“It’s a great day for fire service for Raleigh County,” Tolliver said of the levy, the lone special issue on Tuesday’s primary ballot.
“It really and truly is. If this thing had not passed, it would really have been a big problem for Raleigh County. I’m just thankful that it did.”
Volunteer firefighters, for the most part, went door-to-door to push the levy, designed to capture $4 million in higher real and personal property taxes. The first $2 million will be shared equally among the departments, with $130,000 set aside as a one-time payment to the Emergency Operations Center to buy federally mandated radio equipment so it is part of the new interoperable system.
After that, the 911’s first year share will go toward a fund to finance a minimum of five fire hydrants in all coverage areas. The second $2 million will be shared on the basis of assessed property values in each of the departments’ areas.
Chris Hatcher, president of the Raleigh County Firefighters Association, thanked the voters of Raleigh County who approved the issue, saying, “We’re grateful they supported us. We’re tickled pink. We just want to thank the community.”
Now that the levy has been approved, volunteer units no longer will be imposing a $24 annual fire fee on homeowners in their areas. And, it also signals the end of the county’s yearly payout of $8,000 to the 13 volunteer units.
Tolliver, himself a former paid firefighter in Beckley, plans to get with Commission President John Aliff and Commissioner Pat Reed soon to lay the groundwork for hiring a fire coordinator to handle all expenses for the departments.
Not a penny can go directly to any of them, under terms of the levy, he emphasized, and none of the funds can be used for any other purpose other than maintaining fire departments.
Before the commission advertises for the position, Tolliver said the three commissioners need to confer with Assessor Drema Evans and Sheriff Steve Tanner to get an idea just when the added revenues will start to accrue.
“You won’t get it all at once,” Tolliver said, noting county residents pay their tax tickets at varying times.
“After the first year, everybody will know about how much will be coming in.”
Anyone hired as coordinator must have some background in accounting and experience as a firefighter, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a Raleigh County resident, Tolliver said.
“We haven’t sat down and discussed salary on this yet,” he said.
“I think we will get a lot of applications from outside the county and hopefully pick the best one. We’ll advertise for it several days in the newspaper and probably pick out the best three to five of them, then sit down and interview them.”
Hatcher said he thought the approval margin would have been higher, but all that really mattered is that it met the required 60 percent threshold.
“We pushed the thing kind of hard,” he said.
“We had a slow start in the beginning but in last couple of months, we stepped up the pace.”
Based on a long-running levy in Fayette County, he expects the new one in Raleigh to be sufficient to meet the departments’ needs.
“Seeing what they do and how they run their departments, we should have no problems,” Hatcher added.
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