Members of the Marlinton Fire Department demanded action from Marlinton Council to improve fire safety infrastructure – particularly fire hydrants – during the Council meeting Monday night.
Before discussing safety concerns, fire department president Thomas Barnisky expressed displeasure with comments reported in The Pocahontas Times following the July 7 Council meeting.
“One of the reasons why we’re here is because of the issue that hit the paper,” said Barnisky. “There’s been several people a little upset by some of the things that was said in the paper about the department. One being about the financial report and the audit, which was unknown to some of us that we had this agreement that there was to be a yearly audit done.”
During the July Council meeting, councilmembers expressed displeasure that the department had not submitted annual audited financial statements, as required by a written agreement with the town.
Barnisky provided Council with copies of financial statements dating back to 2011 and a current statement for 2014. The president said he learned just recently about the requirement to provide an annual audit.
“The reason this was set up was to return money that was supposed to have been lost, which was handled by the town for the fire department, which nobody could tell us how much it was,” said Barnisky. “So that’s why this agreement come up to start with. There did not used to be one when I first come into the department. They did not used to be an agreement that I was aware of. Then, all of a sudden, I just become aware of this, being president of the fire department.”
Mayor Joe Smith said he would check into the possibility of having the fire department audited when the town is audited by the state.
Barnisky also took exception with a statement that fire fee contributions are provided by the town.
“The other thing that was mentioned in the paper was about the money which come from the town,” he said. “One being saying that $30,000 from the fire fee was from the town, with an additional ten [thousand dollars]. The $30,000 does not actually come from the town. It is collected by the town, but it comes from the people which pay the fire fee and they’re not all just from the town.”
State law does not require municipalities to collect a fire fee, but authorizes them to pass an ordinance imposing a reasonable fire fee “upon the users of the service,” as Marlinton has done.
Barnisky said complaints about the audits had made firefighters feel unappreciated.
“It made us feel like we was not holding up to our part or we was neglecting the issues of the department to the town,” he said. “Which, in return, we all also can have a complaint back the other direction, with things that need to be taken care of by the town, in order for us to keep our ISOs [Insurance Service Organization] up to rating five.”
Barnisky and other firefighters assailed Council for failure to address serious problems with the town’s fire hydrants, including insufficient ground clearance to fittings, broken hydrants, low water pressure, closed and paved-over valves and hydrants overtaken by vegetation. Barnisky displayed photos of several substandard hydrants and said the town had failed to make necessary repairs for four years.
Fire department employee J.P. Duncan said he had submitted written reports to Council about the condition of the hydrants.
“In my hydrant report, that I turned into you last year, out to the right hand column, there’s a “requested work,” he said. “Most of the pictures Thomas is showing you are also on that report.”
Former fire chief Herb Barlow said Council had promised repairs that were never completed.
“You guys say all this stuff, but you don’t do crap,” he said. “You follow up on nothing.”
Barnisky said there had been insufficient supervision of town work projects.
“Whose responsibility is it to make the town workers get that work done?” he asked. “You’ve got a supervisor. You’re going to say,’well, it’s his responsibility.’ So then, whose responsibility is it to make sure that supervisor’s getting that work done? You’re going to come back and say, ‘it’s the mayor’s responsibility.’ Then I’m going to say, ‘whose responsibility is it to make sure the mayor is taking care of his?’ That is your all’s and it’s not being done.”
Recorder Robin Mutscheller said the town had not met its obligations to the fire department.
“We have been telling you, as the Town of Marlinton, that we were going to do things and they have not been done,” she said.
Council agreed to take action on the fire department’s requested repairs during a special meeting on August 11. Council requested that the department prepare a list of needed repairs to present to Council during that meeting.
West Virginia State Police Troop 3 Commander Captain David Reider, who assumed command in February, answered questions about law enforcement in town. During its July meeting, Council renewed a six-month contract with the State Police for town law enforcement and discussed public comments about trooper performance.
“Overall, the Council has been very pleased with the service that we receive,” said Smith.
Councilmember David Zorn said public perception is an issue.
“I believe it’s more perception,” said Zorn. “People know there’s problems and there’s problems everywhere. Maybe they’re not drastic, but when somebody drives through and sees two or three cruisers sitting around chit-chatting – they may be talking business, I don’t know – but it’s the perception of what it looks like.”
“A lot of time, they’re chit-chatting, maybe about calls they’re about to go on or sharing information,” Reider explained. “Not to say that that isn’t the case – sometimes we just sit and talk when we have a down second or eat lunch while we’re talking to someone. The issue where you don’t know some of the troops – in Marlinton, we only have four men stationed here, so we bring people from out of the area to work here.”
No councilmembers expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of State Troopers and thanked Reider for his visit. Reider said Council should contact the local detachment if it needs a particular area patrolled or specific problems investigated. The troop commander said he wants to ensure top quality service to the town and that he is available to help resolve any issues.
During the mayor’s report, Smith told Council he had obtained an estimate of $8,988 for repair of the air conditioning in the Municipal Building auditorium. Following discussion, Smith agreed to investigate the cost of a heat pump system.
Council made minor revisions to a draft Health and Sanitation ordinance. Council will consider and act on the first reading of the ordinance during its meeting on August 11.
In other business, Council:
– Tabled action on stump grinding at Marlinton Elementary School;
– Tabled action on the Animal Ordinance;
– Tabled employee pay raises, and;
– Took no action on a Drug Anonymous request to use the meeting room.
Council will conduct a special meeting on Monday, August 11 at 7 p.m. In addition to fire department matters, Council will hear an update from Dunn Engineers on a proposed water system upgrade project.