Fire fee main topic of MTC meeting

Marlinton Recorder Robin Mutscheller reads the details of a 1974, 31-year lease agreement between the Town of Marlinton and the Marlinton Fire Department at Monday night’s Marlinton Town Council Meeting. J. Graham photo
Marlinton Recorder Robin Mutscheller reads the details of a 1974, 31-year lease agreement between the Town of Marlinton and the Marlinton Fire Department at Monday night’s Marlinton Town Council Meeting. J. Graham photo

At the April 21 meeting of the Marlinton Town Council, Mayor Joe Smith reported that town attorney Steve Hunter had rendered an opinion concerning the expansion of the town’s fire fee to all of Marlinton Fire Department’s first response area. 
“The opinion from our town attorney is that we cannot enact a fire service fee outside of our corporate limits,” Smith said. “Based on the issue that the town government does not provide the service because the fire department is a non-profit corporation, and it is not a part of the town.”
At Monday night’s council meeting, Smith reported that after receiving that opinion, he and Town Recorder Robin Mutscheller met with representatives from the fire department.
A review of council’s minutes revealed that, indeed, on August 30, 1974, the sitting council had entered into an agreement with the fire department wherein it took possession of the department’s equipment and leased the same back to the department. The lease, a copy of which could not be found, expired in 2005 and was not renewed, but the minutes recorded a later agreement between the town and the department, signed by former mayor Dotty Kellison, concerning the building and collection of the fire fee.
The information was relayed to Hunter, and he reversed his opinion.
“We sent the minutes to Steve Hunter,” said Marlinton Fire Chief Herby Barlow. “He changed his opinion from his written opinion.”
As a result of the research it became apparent that the Town of Marlinton owns the fire department and the fire department leases from the town, which makes it legal for the town to collect a fire fee from the first response area.
Assistant Chief J. P Duncan and Deputy Chief Jamie Kellison have searched the Assessor’s records and 911 phone numbers in an effort to identify exactly how many properties it serves.
The original proposed fire fee was $60, but Barlow said the department had decided not to pursue that amount. The fire fee will be adjusted to $50 per household with no change in the fee for businesses.
“Two decisions I think the fire department wants to walk out of here with tonight is the lease agreement and a fire fee,” Smith said.
Council member Louise Barnisky made a motion that the equipment be transferred to the town, and then leased back to the department. A motion approved by council.
The council then discussed the proposed fire fee.
“Well, to me, and I am certainly not rich, I live month-to-month,” Barnisky said. “But to me, I don’t even think sixty dollars a year is too much money to give to the fire department. I don’t know how many of you in here have ever come to that. How many of you have had the fire department in your door. I did. Me, living alone. And I’m going to tell you something. When you see that smoke rolling out of your house, you would be willing – if you had a million dollars – you’d be willing to give it to them, right now. So, I’m going to tell you something. I don’t think that we need to go down so low that it’s going to make it a hardship on them. But fifty dollars – don’t go lower than fifty dollars a year. I’m going to fight it if you say less than fifty dollars. I know what it is (to have a fire) and it’s never left my mind, people.”
Barlow asked Mutscheller for her opinion and comparison of the abilities of the Marlinton squad to other companies.
“Just looking at – and I’m no expert by any means – but when I look at the things that our county can bring to bear in the event of an emergency, we have a lot that we can bring to the table,” Mutscheller said. “We have a lot of trained people. And we have a lot of equipment and particular expertise that other communities can’t muster.”
Once the fire equipment changes hands, an ordinance will be required to include the entire first response area for payment of the fire fee. The agreed upon amount is $50 per year, or $4.16 per month.
 “I support this, contingent upon the legality of it by our attorney,” council member Sue Helton said. “I want a legal opinion, that it is okay to do the agreement ahead of the ordinance. I would just like to have documentation.”
Smith assured her that the town’s attorney was in agreement.
“He [Hunter] has already agreed,” Smith said. “Verbally, he has told us. He’s told me, Herby and J. P.
“We need to pursue an ordinance for the fire fee,” Smith said. “Once the agreement is in place – it’s all going to happen at the same time. We will change the ordinance to include the first response area at a fee of fifty dollars per residence with business fees remaining as is.”
Helton again questioned the process.
“Can we wait?” she asked. “I think the fire fee ordinance is premature pending the outcome of all this other to make sure everything is done properly.”
Smith held firm.
“We need to get this done,” he said, “so we can get the billings out by the first of July.”
Mutscheller offered some clarification.
“We are not approving the fire fee,” she said, “We are only approving a draft ordinance.”
Council agreed to move forward with the draft ordinance.
In other business
• the mayor reported on his attendance of a Region IV meeting where he learned that  water resource management plans for Marlinton and other locales in Pocahontas County are being formulated at no cost to the county.
• Zorn read from an April 15 article in The Pocahontas Times concerning the effect of litter on business development and home values, and encouraged the council to hire a municipal judge to issue fines with regard to the litter ordinance.
• Council took no action with regard to the alley between Third Avenue and the parking lot at First Citizens Bank. Closure of the alley had been requested by Chittum Land Development.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at jsgraham@poc

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