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Upshur fire fee notices could go out in the fall

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

BUCKHANNON -- Even though a grassroots campaign to get the Upshur County fire service fee put on November's ballot has failed, it will still be weeks or even months before the first bills go out in the mail.

Rock Cave residents Tim and Wendy Higgins led the charge, which ultimately ended up about 260 valid signatures short of success. Those who wanted to see the fee put up for a vote needed to collect 30 percent in 45 days.

Emergency crews needed 10 percent of registered voters to support the fee and had as much time as they needed to collect those signatures. Earlier this year, volunteer firefighters across the county pounded the pavement and knocked on doors collecting signatures of people supporting the fee.

Initially, the campaign to have the fee put on the ballot appeared as though it would succeed, with nearly 4,000 people signing petitions. Once workers in the county clerk's office weeded out invalid signatures, however, the drive came up short.

County Administrator Willie Parker said Friday he hopes to be able to contact members of the fire board this week in order to set up a meeting to finalize the procedure for billing residents.

The meeting could happen as early as this week.

"We need to see when to expect the first notices, which will probably be in August or September," he said. "We also need to get some of the procedures worked out."

Under the ordinance, which went into effect July 1, fees will be assessed as follows:

Owners of commercial or institutional buildings would be charged $50 per tenant, owners of residential buildings would be charged $25 for each tenant, and owners of vacant property of five acres or more would be charged $5. Owners of record as of July 1 of each year would be responsible for the fee. The fees would be collected in annual installments.

Parker said the fire board will most likely try to structure billing in such a way there will be a constant flow of money, rather than a sudden glut once each year.

"What we'll probably do is send out invoices to the different taxing districts at different times," he said. "We have six or seven taxing districts and if we can take care of a district all at once, it will work out pretty good."

Parker said the money will be distributed equally to the county's seven volunteer fire departments. The fee is expected to generate about $20,000 for each department. Departments receive about $25,000 per year from the state and about $2,500 from the Upshur County commission. The state funds are generated from fees on insurance.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446

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