Commissioners opt to take no action on fire service fee issue at this time
By Peggy Mackenzie
After an hour long executive session meeting Thursday, July 15, in conference with the county attorney Patrick Via, the county commissioners returned to the courtroom chambers with no actionable decisions to report.
Commissioner Woody Hanna addressed the issue first, stating he supported the county’s fire departments as his foremost message. He approved the changes made to Lewisburg’s ordinance [see accompanying article in this issue]. He concluded, stating, “I feel the fee is a hindrance to our economic climate.”
If Lewisburg’s fire service fee ordinance passes, residents within its first-due area will be saddled with what the commission believes is an unmanageable expense of 14 cents per square foot, which for structures like the Rahall Center in Maxwelton would cost the county $140,000 annually. The airport’s annual expenses would amount to $19,600, Hanna said, and the 911 Center would come to $15,000 per year. He said he hoped the county and Lewisburg can work together to resolve these issues.
Commission President Mike McClung said the county has standing, but, he added, “This situation can easily grow.”
“The deal-breaker,” McClung said, “is the 14 cents per square foot.”
Citing the need to be supportive of businesses, Commissioner Lowell Rose detailed a number of businesses in the first due area, listing mini storage centers, commercial farms, dairy and turkey farms, and churches, all of which were at risk. “We have more questions than answers, but now is not the time to take any action,” Rose said. Advising prudence, he said, “We’ll do what we can to make this an equitable situation.”
Only five or six citizens were present to hear the commission’s remarks following the executive session. Looking around, McClung commented that he thought it looked as though the public is not yet aware of the potential for Lewisburg’s fire service fee ordinance to pass at the third and final reading in August.
“This thing is going to spiral,” said citizen Jim Livesay. He expressed concerns for the outlying volunteer fire departments of Smoot, Neola, Frankford, Williamsburg and Clintonville, which are not a part of a municipality that are even now in financial trouble. If fire services are discontinued, he said, many in the rural areas could see their insurance costs go up, or even be canceled.
Another county resident, Steve Clendenen, said his biggest complaint is not having a say in the process.
The commission denied considering another fire levy for the whole county, since, as McClung put it, “the county cannot preempt the city of Lewisburg. And even if a levy was approved, the city could still impose a fee on top of it.” Legislation, it would seem, is the preferred route for resolving the impasse, for instance, the public service commission could set a reasonable fee for fire services, said McClung.
Livesay said, “If it was reasonable, that’d be OK.”
McClung concluded the discussion, stating the commission is still holding meetings with Lewisburg in hopes of working something out.
In other business:
911 Executive Director Al Whitaker stated the 911 phone system is outdated. He said the 911 advisory board supported seeking bids to replace the system. Two bids were opened, both with the projected costs approaching half a million dollars to be financed over several years. Whitaker said the furniture at the center also needs replacing.
The commission approved applying $67,400 in grant funding from the Waste Severance Grant Program to make improvements to the county parking lot behind the courthouse and bordering Hwy. 219.
Two pass through grants were approved for the Greenbrier Historical Society: $10,000 to the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion stabilization, the other to North House and the Barracks building signage at $7,000.
County Clerk Robin Loudermilk asked for approval to hire Laura Bell to the county clerk’s office.
Two new appointments were made to Region 4 Planning and Development board: Clifford Gillilan and Doug Goodwin will replace Betty Crookshanks and Tom Cross, completing Greenbrier County’s contingent on the board together with Randy Pendleton, Jim Kimble and G. Scott.
After the meeting, the Greenbrier County Homeland Security Emergency Management 911 Center’s new Mobile Emergency Operation (MEV) vehicle was set up for review by the commission and the media. For a price tag of $205,000, the bus/travel trailer-sized vehicle is heavily equipped to handle any off-site operations, Whitaker said. Power is supplied with a 20KW generator, and telephones are at every desk station, assuring access to the internet. Several TVs were evident for radar and remote viewing, video training and skype conferences. Whitaker said the most important piece of equipment was the coffee maker. Look for the MRV on the fairgrounds during the upcoming State Fair. You can’t miss it.