BUCKHANNON – City officials on Thursday voted to decline a $15,000 appropriation from the Upshur County Commission earmarked for the Buckhannon Fire Department, citing fears that accepting the money would “hamstring” the city’s ability to implement a first-due fire service zone fee.
The issue arose out of a recent property transfer that took place between the commission and the Buckhannon Volunteer Fire Department through which the commission gave two fire trucks – a 2003 Kenworth Pumper and a 1996 Smeal Freightliner Pumper – to the city’s volunteer department.
Annually, through the current 2020 fiscal year, the commission has allocated $15,000 to maintain those trucks.
However, beginning in fiscal year 2021, the commission resolved to allocate the $15,000 that was previously used to maintain trucks “to the City of Buckhannon, West Virginia, for fire response within the first due fire service zone, pending annual budgetary approval.”
When they received the resolution, which was passed in 2019, city officials took issue not with the $15,000 allocation, but with the wording in the resolution attached to the allocation. Specifically, Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble, city attorney Tom O’Neill and mayor David McCauley said they were concerned about the phrase “for fire response within the first due fire service zone, pending annual budgetary approval.”
City officials feared accepting the money – and the accompanying resolution – would prevent them from implementing a first-due area fire fee. Specifically, they were concerned county officials would say the first due fee had already been paid via the $15,000 annual appropriation.
In response, O’Neill sent a letter to the commission asking them to reword the resolution, which commissioners declined to do. So, at Thursday’s Feb. 6 meeting, O’Neill recommended council decline accepting the money.
“At council’s request, I made a request to the county commission to reword the resolution so that it would not potentially hamstring the city’s ability to implement a first-due fire fee at some point in the future if the city were to decide to do that,” O’Neill said. “The county commission didn’t want to modify the language of the resolution, so my recommendation to the council is to authorize me to decline the appropriation.”
In his ‘State of the City’ address in January and again Thursday, McCauley said city officials are considering a first-due fire fee, meaning a fee that would be paid by residents who live in the approximately 50-square-mile area that’s designated as the BFD’s ‘first due’ or primary area. Similar fees are mechanisms through which many surrounding municipalities fund their fire departments, the mayor said.
“Just to be clear, and not to beat the worn-out whatever, so many communities around us have already adopted the first due fire fee … and it’s led to great success for the fire departments – Elkins Bridgeport Fairmont Morgantown,” he said, “and we don’t want to fall behind our sister cities around us, and [it’s] one of the things that Buckhannon will consider in the future to help our fire department get to where it needs to be with vehicles and training and all those other expenses that are incurred as part of running a fire department.”
McCauley claimed the BFD responds to the majority of calls in the county, noting 90 percent of the total value of all buildings and structures in Upshur County are located in the department’s first due service area.
“I don’t think we should be handcuffed in our opportunity to consider that fee in the future,” he said. “We want to be free to exercise that option if we so choose without interference from the county commission.”
Councilman Robbie Skinner made a motion to decline the $15,000, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Bucklew before passing unanimously.
In other city news, council also:
- Approved Ordinance 442, which reconfigures the membership of the city’s Animal Care and Control Commission to remove the requirement that a practicing veterinarian sit on the committee and designates that slot as an at-large member. The ordinance will go into effect 30 days from Feb. 6. McCauley suggested Dog Park Committee member Lisa Critchfield serve on the board, but council will have to wait until its first meeting in March to officially consider making that appointment.
- Referred two property rezoning requests to the city’s Planning Commission, including one from A&T Enterprises to rezone 2.5 acres adjacent to the Event Center at Brushy Fork from a military zone to a C-2 commercial district. The second request came from the Upshur County Development Authority, which asked that an area now designated as a military district – also located along the Brushy Fork Road – be rezoned as an industrial district. UCDA executive director Rob Hinton, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said the development authority plans to market the property to a medical cannabis manufacturing facility.