New Fire Service Fee questions

Dear Editor:

The following notes are about what I know and what I don’t know about this new Fire Service Fee.

What I know:

At the May 19 meeting, the Lewisburg City Council did the second reading of Ordinance 250 Rural Fire Service Fee and hoped it would pass without incident. However, several citizens had multiple questions regarding the rushing of this proposal and its fairness – especially for fees for vacant land and for business owners who in turn provide jobs for other Greenbrier County citizens. According to the Fire Department’s annual report, there were 9 brushfires in 2014 and 18 structure fires – none of which were commercial locations. Yet the small businesses are the ones who will be most affected by the fire rate.

What I’d like to know:

Just because another larger town in West Virginia (Bridgeport) chose to charge these fees, why does our town council feel they have the right to do so without any input from citizens?

Also, I’d like to know, what’s the difference in a “service fee” and a new “tax?”

What I know:

Lewisburg City Council’s public hearing lasted until nearly 10 p.m. and some of us cut our remarks short because it was getting so late. Many more questions were left unanswered. For instance, who decided that .14 cents per square foot was a fair rate to charge for a commercial building? It didn’t seem to make a difference if the structure was frame, cement, metal or a combination. And, what about large barns on a commercial farm? What’s the appropriate rate for those?

This so called “service fee” is something that will affect all of us for years to come and possibly cause some small businesses to close shop. Fee or tax – It’s thousands of dollars a year no matter what Council names it.

What we were told after hours of discussion was that there would not be another public hearing. However, our comments would be taken under advisement.

What I’d like to know:

What does that really mean?

Why not slow this down and have another public hearing and really take into consideration what the citizens have suggested? Why punish businesses when Lewisburg needs business so badly?

I’d also like to know how many members on the city Council own property or businesses outside of Lewisburg City Limits? If you did, would you still vote for this?

What I know:

Per 730.04 section of the ordinance: If you do not pay your monthly fire fee (not a tax), within the 20 day period you will be charged a penalty of nine percent. If it remains unpaid for 12 months, an additional penalty equal to interest at the rate of nine percent per annum of the billing shall be assessed. Really? Really.

If you protest your fees (and provide written notice to the city recorder on or before 35 days of billing date, you can appeal to the Fire Service Appeals Board. These five members (according to 730.08 of the ordinance) are the Fire Chief, City Administrator (who is also the Mayor), a Council Member, and attorney who is appointed by the Council, and one resident at large, also appointed by the Council. Want to protest?

What I know:

If you, as citizens of Greenbrier County don’t show up at the next city council meeting and make your wants known, you will be giving the Fire Department of Lewisburg a future budget of nearly $700,000 per year.

The citizens of Lewisburg City already pay a municipal fee for fire service. Now some of us will also have to pay extra for outside city limits.

With the defeat of the fire levy, the citizens have already made it clear that we don’t want exorbitant $5 million fire houses and other outrageous expenditures. All of us have to budget and may not always get exactly what we want when we want it.

Let’s focus on our fire fighters’ safety and equipment. Perhaps we can share some of the other costs with other fire departments in Greenbrier County. After all, we already pay a County Tax. Or is it a fee?

Marietta Lyall

Lewisburg

 

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