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Clarksburg Council OKs fire fee increase

by Jim Fisher and Sarah Nagem

STAFF WRITERS

CLARKSBURG -- City Council chambers erupted in cheers and applause Thursday when Mayor Terry Greaver cast the deciding fourth vote to pass the disputed 50 percent fire service fee increase.

"I got a phone call tonight and was told if I voted for the increase, I was going to be the first one to need the fire department, so you guys better get ready because I'm voting yes," Greaver said in casting his vote.

Also voting for the increase were councilmen Jim Hunt, David Kates and Tom Flynn.

Dissenting were Councilwoman Margaret Bailey and councilmen Zeke Lopez and Patsy Trecost.

"Last year I got public safety put in the (excess property tax) levy, because that money is earmarked. I think we have other options," Lopez said. "I'm in favor of raising the fire fee if we've exhausted all other options."

Finance Director Frank Ferrari was unsure how much of the $800,000 generated annually from the levy will go to the fire and police departments.

Proponents of the increase have said raising the fee was important to help free up about $400,000 from the fire department budget, which can now be used for other items in the budget.

Opponents have said a 50 percent increase -- which will raise residential rates from $60 to $90 per year -- was too much to swallow at once. Council last raised the fire service fee in 1992.

Bailey said she was in favor of a compromise: Gradually raising the fee by 10 percent per year over the next several years. She said Thursday she was told such a compromise was not feasible.

One thing practically every council member agreed on was that it has been too long since the fee was addressed. Numerous city officials have pointed out Clarksburg's fee is one of the cheapest in the state, and the fee also pays for less of the fire department than just about every other city with a fire fee. Clarksburg's fee amounts to less than half of the department's overall budget, while most cities' fees pay for 70-100 percent.

"No matter how you look at it, we are faced with an unpopular decision, no matter which way we go," Kates said before the vote. "We have to look at the unpopularity vs. the necessity.

"How much is a life worth?" he asked.

Although he approved of the increase, Hunt said this is not something that should be done every year as "a way of balancing the budget." Hunt proposed stipulating that council not consider raising the fee again for at least four years. That suggestion was not acted upon Thursday.

Firefighters packed council chambers Thursday, and numerous people spoke, both for and against, the increase.

In other business, council:

n Amended the city's sidewalk program to allow three adjacent neighbors wishing to participate to get a price break. Under the program, the city pays 70 percent of sidewalk replacements. If three adjacent neighbors take part, the city will pick up 90 percent of the cost.

n Adopted a list of city priorities for the 25-year Harrison County transportation plan.

n Approved four resolutions for house demolitions. The structures to be demolished are located at: 1709 N. 22nd St.; 2207 Pearlman Ave.; 436 S. Chestnut St.; 113 Shuttlesworth St.

n Moved consideration of approval to authorize the city manager to submit a grant application with the West Virginia Economic Development Grant Committee to the special work session June 10. The projects for the grant are: State office building, West Pike Street parking, transportation museum and connecting the rail trail in Glen Oak.

Council also approved moving the regular meeting on June 20 to a special meeting on June 18.

Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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