Marlinton Town Council will seek legal advice before it implements a $60 per household fire fee for the entire Marlinton Fire Department (MFD) first-due area. The area encompasses a large section of Pocahontas County, including Cooktown, Slaty Fork, Minnehaha Springs and Pocahontas County High School.
Currently, residents inside corporate limits pay a fire fee of $25 per year. MFD Chief Herb Barlow wants Council to increase the fee and expand the collection area to include the entire first-due area. State law authorizes municipalities to charge a fire fee in first-due areas, but a question arose during Monday night’s Council meeting whether that authority extends to towns that do not own the fire equipment.
Barlow said the West Virginia Supreme Court had ruled on the issue.
“The City of Bridgeport did it; the City of Elkins just did it,” he said. “On January 15, 2014, the State Supreme Court of Appeals heard the case the City of Bridgeport. They found that, yes, a city can enact a fire fee for the first-due area.”
Barlow said he had consulted with other municipal fire departments to tailor an ordinance that will work for the Marlinton area. The fire chief presented a draft fire fee ordinance to Council for action.
Councilmember Sue Helton questioned the town’s authority to impose the fee.
“It’s my opinion that we need to talk to an attorney,” she said. “The thing from the City of Bridgeport applies to cities and towns that own fire equipment only.”
MFD is an autonomous organization that owns all of its firefighting equipment.
“At one time, the town used to own the equipment, but then you didn’t want it anymore, so you gave it to us,” said Barlow.
Helton advised caution.
“This references a fire fee to the first-response area in cities and towns that own their own equipment only,” she said. “I recommend that Council not take any action until we have answers on this.”
Council directed Mayor Joe Smith to refer the matter to Town Attorney Steve Hunter for advice. At Barlow’s request, Council approved payment of a $10,000 donation to MFD, which had already been included in the town budget.
During the Mayor’s Report, Smith said groundbreaking on a new business could happen this month.
“I have talked with Mr. [Zach] Chittum last Friday,” he said. “I met directly with his surveyors and engineers. They hope to break ground by the 15th. But he has not submitted any paperwork yet to the Town for building permits or
anything. About 4 o’clock this afternoon, he emailed a building design and footprint. He is going forward and he’s making no bones about it now – it will be a Tudor’s Biscuit World, with rental space on the second floor.”
Chittum had requested that Council abandon an alleyway between Third Avenue and the Municipal Building parking lot, for the restaurant to use as a drive-thru. Smith said he had referred the matter to Hunter for action. The Mayor said he had expected the attorney to complete the action prior to Monday night’s Council meeting, but that he had not received confirmation from Hunter.
The Mayor also commented on the closing of one of Marlinton’s two grocery stores.
“I was able to talk to John Fitzwater, he’s one of the partners in FasChek,” he said. “When I talked to him, he told me that the problems they were having were company-wide, they weren’t only our FasChek. They were working on a couple of options, but no guarantees, as to somebody buying the facility out.”
Appalachian Sport proprietor Chuck Workman requested a Council donation for trout stocking of the Greenbrier River. Workman and fellow businessman Sam Mitchell started the program two years ago, with hopes of attracting fishermen tourists to the downtown area.
“One of the things I saw that really impressed me the most is that I would have people come in from Williams River and, when the weather got warmer, I’d see families out there with kids playing in the river,” said Workman. “They’d go back out to Williams River and they’d show back up here the next day. I’m pretty sure they were eating at the Riverplace and Dairy Queen. So, I think it’s something, a resource there that it’s crazy not to take advantage of.”
Councilmember Norris Long said he was originally opposed to the idea because the Greenbrier River is not ideal trout habitat. But Long said he changed his mind when he saw people fishing in the river and heard feedback from local businesses.
Workman said the total cost of stocking is about $4,000. Several local businesses and organizations have provided financial support, including Mitchell Chevrolet, Appalachian Sport, Marlinton Motor Inn, Dairy Queen, Jerico Bed and Breakfast, and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Council voted 5-0 to approve a $1,000 donation to the trout stocking project. Councilmember Louise Barnisky was not present.
In other business, Marlinton Council:
– Hired Luke Miller in the Sanitation Department and Samuel Mace in the Cemetery/Maintenance Department;
– Approved the purchase of a John Deere X700 Series tractor and mowing deck for $8,990;
– Approved several resolutions necessary to receive funding for a water plant upgrade project;
– Scheduled a special meeting for April 21 at 7 p.m. to act on the levy;
– Tabled action on water tank bypass plumbing;
– Approved a list of election workers and approved appointment of a counting board;
– Appointed Dottie Kellison and Sylvia Smith as early voting clerks;
– Set early voting on the first two Saturdays before town election day, and;
– Took no action on a medical reimbursement policy.
The next regular Marlinton Council meeting is scheduled for May 4 at 7 p.m.