Vote on fire fee expected

CHARLES TOWN – Ed Hannon, the deputy director of the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency, said after a public hearing Thursday night that he expects the County Commission will soon vote on whether to impose an emergency services fee.

[cleeng_content id="800823034" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]A vote on the issue is not on this week’s commission agenda.

The hearing drew a sizable crowd that was evenly divided between supporters and detractors of the proposed fee, which would go to fund a major expansion of paid JCESA staff. The new members would be dual-trained firefighters and EMS providers, skills that local volunteer departments say are sorely needed.

Local resident Rachel Fluke spoke in favor of the measure.

“Last January, my husband had a stroke around nine-o’clock at night,” Fluke said. “I called 911, and the Citizens Fire (Company) and the JCESA were dispatched to our home. The JCESA paramedic arrived first and began assisting my husband.

“At the hospital my husband was taken directly for a PET scan because the medic had worked up all the necessary papers to be performed ahead of time. Later, I learned that there was only one medic on duty in the county that evening. If this medic had been on another call, the outcome or my husband could have been very different.

“I would like to support extra medics in the county,” she said.

Tamara Tavert, a paramedic with the JCESA and Citizens Fire Company, said the decision to impose a fire fee was never going to be an easy one.

“No one ever expects to need these services,” Tavert said. “No one ever wants to need these services. But many, many do every day. It might not be the popular choice, but it is the right choice.”

The measure, at least as drafted, had a number of prominent detractors, however, including the Jefferson County Development Authority.

“We have heard from businesses who are very concerned about the impact of this fee,” said JCDA president Mark Dyck. “It is important that their concerns must be reflected in this decision.

“We do not support a fee based on square footage for residential structures or commercial structures,” Dyck said. “While the County Commission has worked with the JCDA to lower commercial impact fees, we are afraid this may be offset with an EMS fee.”

Former Ambulance Authority commissioner Paul Rosa argued that the proposed fee did not fully agree with the state-level enabling legislation that allowed the county to impose fire and ambulance fees.

“As soon as those bills hit the mailbox someone is going to walk over to the courthouse,” he said. “The circuit court judge would nullify what you’ve done.”

Local resident Doug Rockwell expressed concern that the ordinance might be changed – it has already undergone several revisions – before it is brought to a vote.

“Every time we come to one of these meetings it is a work in progress,” Rockwell said. “Is this a work in progress tonight? Are there final answers tonight?”

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