At the Marlinton Town Council meeting Monday night, members of the Marlinton Fire Department and residents in the first due area expected to hear the first reading of the Title VI Fire Protection Ordinance.
The ordinance, which will require individuals living within MFD’s first due [response] area to pay a fire fee, was not available for a reading although it was stated at the January meeting the first draft would be ready.
Town attorney Laura Finch apologized for not having the ordinance ready and implied that she was going to work on it last weekend, but fell ill.
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’ve been sick over the weekend. I was hoping to have that ready.”
Marlinton fire chief Herby Barlow expressed his disappointment and said they have been working on the ordinance for a while now and didn’t understand why it wasn’t ready.
“It didn’t get set up as a first reading because we didn’t have one,” recorder B.J. Gudmundsson said. “It wasn’t ready to go.”
“We don’t have a few things in this – I’ll call it the legal terms – and Laura is going to be putting that in,” councilmember Mark Strauss said. “So, those aren’t included in here, and they need to be added properly. Laura just didn’t get to do that yet, so we couldn’t have first reading on this one that was provided because it was only a draft. It doesn’t say anything about the first due area because it was Laura’s job to put the first due area in this ordinance and she is going to be working on that.”
Despite not having the ordinance ready, council discussed it at length and allowed audience members to voice their opinions on the proposed fire fee.
John Leyzorek, who lives six miles outside of town limits, said he is a fervent supporter of volunteer fire departments and even served as a member of one when he lived in New Jersey. When he moved to Pocahontas County, he tried to join the Marlinton department, but said he was dismissed after a six week probationary period.
Leyzorek said he believes in finding support for the fire department, but in his opinion, it is illegal to assess a fee to individuals who live outside of town limits.
“One of the fundamental reasons for the American Revolution a couple hundred years ago, which I think was a real good thing, was the issue of taxation without representation and if there were a fire district which was run by a board elected by the residents of the entire district then I believe that district would have the lawful power to assess its residents,” Leyzorek said. “As long as I don’t vote for the Marlinton Town Council members or for the board that runs the fire company, I believe this body here has no authority to charge me a fee.”
Leyzorek said it would be understandable if the Pocahontas County Commission assessed the fee because it is elected by the entire county, but he believes town council does not have authority over residents outside of town limits.
Mayor Sam Felton disagrees.
“The state says that we do,” Felton said. “It’s not a tax. It is a fee, a service fee.”
Leyzorek maintained that he feels the fire fee is a tax and said if the fee is assessed, he will not pay it.
“If the fee is assessed, as a matter of principle, not because I don’t love the fire company, but because I believe in the law, as a matter of principle, I will not pay,” he said. “And I will fight it up to the West Virginia Supreme Court or higher if possible because it is unlawful.”
Doug Bernier also lives outside town limits and shared his concern over the fire fee. He asked if it was possible for the Marlinton department to only serve inside town limits.
Barlow explained that the State Fire Marshal’s office set the response area lines and the Marlinton department is required to serve the coverage area set by the fire marshal’s lines.
“Wouldn’t it be more advantageous for you to only cover the town, though?” Bernier asked.
Barlow told Bernier that it is not possible for the department to set it’s own coverage area. While it would be easier for the department to only cover Marlinton, the fire marshal assessed it a larger area due to response time, number of members and number of calls in that area.
Barlow added that based on an average of the past three years’ calls, 82 percent were outside the corporate limits of Marlinton.
Council also discussed the contract with Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department, but said it would be better to have the fire fee ordinance in place before changes were made to the contract.
After a long discussion about the fire fee ordinance, council decided to have a special meeting just for the ordinance and the contract. The meeting will be Monday, February 13, at 6:30 p.m.
In other business:
• Council approved the Region IV, Resolution #12, payment of invoices for engineering services – Water System Improvement Project.
• Council formed a committee to discuss the rates and contract for rental of the municipal building auditorium.
• A special meeting with USDA Rural Development Coordinator Lisa Sharp was set for Thursday, March 9, at 5:30 p.m. Prior to the meeting, council will meet to discuss the budget.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org