[caption id="attachment_7275" align="alignleft" width="300"]<a href="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2015\/01\/FireFeeBanner.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-7275" src="http:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2015\/01\/FireFeeBanner-300x150.jpg" alt="Firefighters battle a blaze in Marlinton on November 10, 2013. " width="300" height="150" \/><\/a> Firefighters battle a blaze in Marlinton on November 10, 2013.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nThe Pocahontas County Fire Association and its six member fire departments have begun a campaign to institute a fire fee on county property owners. The Association is planning a fee structure of $60 on residential properties, $100 on business properties, and $25 on unimproved parcels of five acres or more. All residential and business units at Snowshoe Mountain Resort would be billed as individual units. Businesses with the owner's residence on the same contiguous parcel would pay just the $100 business fee.\r\n\r\nFire Association President Herb Barlow, also Chief of the Marlinton Fire Department, spoke to the Pocahontas County Commission in October about the proposed fee. Barlow and several fellow firefighters, including Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire Chief Kenneth Varner, told the Commission the fee is needed to pay the increasing costs of firefighting equipment, training and maintenance.\r\n\r\nMarlinton is the only municipality in Pocahontas County that charges a fire fee - currently $25 per year. Barlow told Marlinton Council Monday night that the fee has not increased since the 1970s. The Fire Association is seeking Council approval to have Marlinton residents and businesses fall under the proposed $60\/$100 county fire fee.\r\n\r\nAn analysis of property records at the Pocahontas County Assessor's Office shows that the proposed fee would generate approximately $300,000 for the Fire Association each year, including approximately $150,000 from Snowshoe Mountain residence and business owners.\r\n\r\nBarlow said the additional revenue is needed to pay the increasing costs of firefighting equipment and training.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe cost of doing business in the fire service has increased dramatically over the past 20 to 25 years,\u201d he said. \u201cSeveral years ago, you could buy a new fire truck for $150,000. If you go and order a new engine today, it can be anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000. Your personal protective gear, your turnout gear is a big expense. I'm not going to buy the cheapest version of turnout gear for these guys going into fires. I'm going to buy the top-of-the-line gear to protect them.\u201d\r\n\r\nCounty fire departments face major equipment replacement costs in the near future.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn Marlinton, two of our trucks were bought after the 1985 flood - they're 1985 Macks,\u201d said Barlow. \u201cYou go out and try to find a set of brakes for a 1985 Mack truck. Once they get so old, it's hard to find parts for them. If you look around throughout the county, you'll see the equipment is aging.\u201d\r\n\r\nVolunteers firefighters receive extensive training, which the departments provide.\r\n\r\n\u201cTraining is a big expense,\u201d said Barlow. \u201cTo be a firefighter, just to go out and answer calls, you have to be a Level I firefighter. That's about 120 hours. To be a fire chief, you have to be a Level II firefighter. That about 500 to 600 hours of training, just to be a fire chief. The departments pay for that.\u201d\r\n\r\nBarlow said additional revenue from the fire fee would be a significant, but necessary increase for the Fire Association.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt's a whole lot more than what we're getting now,\u201d he said. \u201cThe County Commission gives us $50,000 off the hotel\/motel tax for the fire service. That's $50,000 divided by six departments. You do the math - that's not a lot. You can outfit two to three firefighters with new gear with what you get yearly.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe State provides limited funding to county fire departments. Barlow said Marlinton Fire Department receives about $20,000 every year from state funds.\r\n\r\nCounty fire departments are mostly volunteer organizations. Marlinton has two full-time employees; Bartow-Frank-Durbin has one full-time employee; and Shavers Fork employs up to eight full-time employees during ski season.\r\n\r\nIf the County Commission approves the fire fee, Barlow said revenue would be divided by response areas. Fire fees paid by county residents and businesses would go to that resident's or business' local fire department. Barlow said firefighter jobs could be created in those local areas.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt could possibly employ some people, whether it be Frost or one of the smaller departments, \u201d he said. \u201cThere is so much paperwork required on a weekly and monthly basis. It could be full-time or part-time employment for folks. It's definitely going to make sure that your department in your area will have the proper gear and the proper training.\u201d\r\n\r\nBarlow downplays criticism of the proposed fee.\r\n\r\n\u201cI understand that $60 is a lot for a lot of people, it's a lot for me,\u201d he said. \u201cIt's five dollars a month, when you break it down. That's a pack of cigarettes. That's a six-pack of beer. It's barely more than a big bag of Lay's potato chips.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe Fire Association is required to collect signatures from 10 percent of qualified voters in the county in order to present a formal request to the County Commission to institute the fire fee. The Association is currently collecting signatures and is expected to present the request to the Commission in the near future.\r\n\r\nBarlow promised proper oversight of how fire fee revenue is spent.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt's the citizens' money and we have nothing to hide,\u201d he said. \u201cWe have to do an audit through the Fire Marshal Office every year. We have to provide them with an audit. The Town of Marlinton requires us to do a financial statement yearly to present to the town. We're not buying t-shirts, we're not having beer and pizza parties or anything like that. The money's going to a good use.\u201d\r\n\r\nFollow-up articles in The Pocahontas Times will profile local volunteer firefighters and examine how other West Virginia counties deal with fire department funding.