UPDATE: Fire Levy Fails in Mingo County

By: Olivia Fecteau Email
By: Olivia Fecteau Email
UPDATE 3/24/13 @ 7:45 p.m.

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A levy vote that would have increased fire protection in Mingo County has failed this weekend. Fire departments are concerned about their ability to stay open without that money.

"Not very good, not very good at all," Chattaroy Fire Chief Joe Rumore said.

Chattaroy is among the ten fire departments in the county that are made up of volunteers. Williamson is the only department that has paid firefighters. But even with volunteers, operating the departments still costs money.

Rumore's department recently bought a new fire truck, but they can't come up with the money to equip it. They said it's useless to them until they can do that.

"I can't take on any new volunteers, anybody that wants to join," Rumore said. "You're talking $2,000 to $3,000 to equip a new person, plus send this person to school to be certified to be a firefighter."

The concern now is whether smaller departments, especially ones that only make runs to fires every couple of weeks, can stay open. If they fold, response times for emergencies would increase.

"People in Chattaroy will have to depend on people in Williamson," Jarrod Fletcher, Mingo County's emergency services director, said. "In the Beech Creek area, they'll have to depend on Matewan, or [if] Matewan goes out they'll have to depend on Delbarton."

He added, "It's going to be tough on them, especially the departments that don't make a lot of runs."

Local chiefs also said reduced protection could drive up insurance premiums in the area -- meaning that savings on tax bills will be costly in the long run.

"For the thirty or forty dollars a year per household it would've cost them, that's not very much considering your homeowners' insurance is going to double or triple," Fletcher said.

The rate for the levy would have been 0.0468% -- an increase of about $23.40 per year for property assessed at $50,000.

Officials said this levy could be on the ballot again in May 2014. It last failed in October 2011.

Mingo County is one of just a few West Virginia counties without a fire department levy.

UPDATE 3/24/13 @ 11:30 a.m.

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- If you live in Mingo County, you won't see your tax bill going up from new levies. A levy for the county's fire departments has failed again after Saturday's vote.

The fire levy needed 60% of the vote to pass and it fell short of that mark. If approved, the money raised would have been divided among the eleven departments in the county. Some of the money would have been used to purchase new equipment and beef up fire protection.

Mingo County voters decided to keep the school board levy in place on Saturday. That levy has been in effect since 1964 and helps pay for textbooks, extracurricular activities and other expenses. Tax bills won't go up as a result of this levy, since it was already in place.

The fire department levy failed by fewer than 100 votes the last time it was up for a vote in October 2011.

UPDATE 3/22/13 @ 6 p.m.

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Voters in Mingo County are gearing up to vote Saturday on a levy that failed by fewer than 100 votes in October 2011.

The levy involves the county's fire departments and would increase county tax bills if it passes. The total amount of the levy would be $1.1 million, but Williamson Fire Chief Jerry Mounts said the amount collected would likely be closer to $700,000 or $800,000.

So how much does that work out to per person? The rate is 0.0468% of the assessed value of your property. For example, if your property is assessed at $50,000, that works out to $23.40 extra per year on your tax bill.

The money would be divided up among the 11 fire departments in Mingo County. Ten are volunteer fire departments, while Williamson still has paid firefighters. Each department will receive $30,000 per year if the levy passes. The remaining money would go toward purchasing equipment that departments can no longer afford.

"Some of them need self-contained breathing apparatuses, some of them need fire engines," Mounts said.

In the past, departments have used federal grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But with recent sequestration cuts, they don't expect money in the future.

That's where the levy comes in. But it needs 60 percent of the vote to pass. It missed that mark by only a couple percentage points in 2011.

Mounts said the levy is crucial in protecting the county effectively. Fire equipment isn't cheap: outfitting a firefighter with gear and a breathing apparatus can cost nearly $10,000, according to Mounts.

"It's the times we live in," Mounts said. "From the federal government right on down, times are hard, money's hard to come by."

But that's why people are worried about higher taxes from the levy.

Richard Wright, who lives in Williamson, said he'll vote for the levy, even though he knows money is tight for people, because he thinks fire protection is important.

"A lot of people are on fixed income. I can understand that, but taxes are going to have to go [up]," Wright said.

He also said taxes would either affect people now or affect their children and grandchildren in the future.

Mounts noted that beefing up fire protection in Mingo County would result in lower insurance premiums throughout the area, which could offset the higher taxes in the long run.

"It does help the people in the county," Cecil Hatfield, who lives in Mingo County, said. "We need those volunteer fire departments."

The other levy on the ballot Saturday is for Mingo County Schools. Voting for that levy will not increase taxes, since it has already been in place since 1964. That money goes toward a variety of expenses, including free textbooks and extracurricular activities.

Voting takes place on Saturday, March 23 at 39 polling places across Mingo County. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

ORIGINAL STORY 10/3/11 @ 4 p.m.

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- While it would appear the Mingo County Fire Levy passed by popular vote, it narrowly failed Tuesday night.

That's because the levy had to receive at least 60 percent of the vote. According to unofficial returns from all 39 precincts, 2,609 were in favor of the levy, whereas 1,901 were against it.

That represents about 58 percent of the vote -- just missing the 60 percent requirement.

Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden called it a sad day for the county.

"If it doesn't pass we may very well experience some of our volunteer fire departments in the county shutting down," said the head of the Mingo County Fire Chief’s Association Jerry Mounts.

The departments wanted the money for new equipment, better training and services.

The more than $1 million generated by the levy would have also helped each dept better handle growing financial challenges.

"Some of the departments, nearly one-third of their annual amount is being spent on workers comp and liability insurance only," said Mounts.

Now the 11 fire department will have to go back to the drawing board.

"Without this levy I really believe some of them are going to be behind the eight ball and not be able to maintain their services," said Mounts.

There is no word on whether this will be on a future ballot.

Mingo reportedly is one of five counties in the state without a fire levy.

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