Rural Fire Fee discussions heat up council meetings

Welcome to WSS (Photo by Sara Swann)By Sarah Mansheim

As one town has cancelled its rural fire fee, another is moving forward with its plans to put one in place.

On Monday evening, White Sulphur Springs City Council voted to “kill” an ordinance which would allow the city to bill citizens outside of city limits a fee to support the volunteer fire department. Then, on Tuesday, Lewisburg City Council passed a first reading of its fire fee ordinance. A clerical error had forced Lewisburg to start the process of passing the ordinance from scratch, and Mayor John Manchester told council that, in response to discussions he’d had with Fire Chief Wayne Pendleton, members of the public and with the Greenbrier County Commission, he was introducing an amended ordinance for their consideration.

Manchester presented council with what he referred to as Option B, which contained seven changes to the original fire fee ordinance. The ordinance still seeks to collect a fee from residents who live in the “first due” area outside of Lewisburg City Limits based on the size of their properties and dwellings. The fee is an attempt to help fund the Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department, which provides its services to people throughout eastern Greenbrier County.

Manchester told council they could consider the reworked ordinance as a whole, or vote on any of the seven individual changes in Option B. Those revisions were:

• A clarification of the definition of “agricultural unit structure” to mean “all buildings used exclusively for a bona fide farming operation. This includes pole barns, barns, smokehouses, utility buildings, grain bins/silos etc.”

• A clarification of the definition of commercial agricultural operations – defined in the Option B ordinance as “Agrichemicals, breeding, crop production – contract farming, distribution, farm machinery, processing and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales. All agents of the food and fiber value chain and those institutions that influence it are part of the agribusiness system. These classifications are not exempt from fire service fees.”

• A change to the date of imposition from July 1, 2015 to October 1, 2015.

• The removal of vacant land fees from the fee schedule

• The removal of the phrase “and other” from throughout the ordinance in order to remove ambiguity

• A change in the board of appeals from five to seven members, to include the city administrator or his/her designee, the fire chief or his/her designee, a city council member, an attorney appointed by city council, “and the fifth, sixth and seventh members of the board shall be residents recommended by the county commission to the city council for appointment with the city council selecting three members from a pool of nine – three each from the north, east and west sides of the fire district.”

• The removal of language to allow liens to be placed against properties where property owners had not paid the fire fee, instead leaving the enforcement of the fire fee to the circuit and municipal courts.

Council voted to accept Option B in its entirety. The second reading, and its corresponding public hearing, will take place on Tuesday, July 21, during the regular monthly meeting of Lewisburg City Council.

The wholesale passage of the amended fire fee ordinance in Lewisburg stands in stark contrast to the outright rejection of a similar fee ordinance in White Sulphur Springs, where council members unanimously voted it down.

Last month, White Sulphur Springs City Council passed a rural fire fee ordinance on first reading, but last Monday, during the second reading, voted to “kill” the ordinance after Mayor Lloyd Haynes informed meeting goers they were not moving forward with it in its current form.

According to The Register Herald, a sticking point for the Spa City fire fee ordinance was the fact that The Greenbrier lies within White Sulphur’s first-due area. Levying a fee against the 10,000-acre property, and the adjoining high-end development, The Greenbrier Sporting Club, equaled what Haynes amounted to a “dog fight,” and a possible court battle, that he felt was best avoided.

Haynes told council the fire fee ordinance will be reworked and presented at a later date.


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