The Elkins Finance Committee on Friday discussed the possibility of raising the fire service fee to help cover expenses incurred by the Elkins Fire Department. Elkins City Clerk Phil Graziani said in the last fiscal year the department overspent its budget by $8,000.
Graziani explained that in the past the city has utilized the general fund to supplement the fire department and the police department budgets so rates would not have to be raised.
"We cannot continue this way," Graziani said.
The committee was told that the general fund contains approximately $53,000, which Graziani says "scares me to death."
Elkins Treasurer Linda Crosston provided forms to committee members showing that $212,224.15 in regular collection, plus $38,924.80 past due fire fees were collected in the 2008/2009 fiscal year. The city billed $336,458.36.
Crosston said she sends out bills and letters to try to collect the rest of the money. That resulted in the collection of $213,376.49 from July 2009 to December 2009 in regular fees and $15,752.61 in past due fees.
"Even if we collect all the fees, it would not cover the fire department," Graziani said. "We need an additional $100,000 for the department. In another year, the general fund will not be able to pay bills in a timely manner."
Currently, city residents' fire fee stands at .0325 cents per square foot of structures, which includes homes and other buildings.
Crosston said to raise the extra $100,000 for the fire department, the fee would have to be raised to .0422 cents per square foot, an increase of 29.85 percent.
She also provided example figures showing how much the fee would be with the increase. For a 2,112-square-foot home, the fee would increase by $20.49 per year. For a 3,126-square-foot property, the fee would increase by $30.32 per year.
Committee member and Elkins City Councilman Tom Hensil, 2nd Ward, said he would like to see the city develop a municipal fee for all residents to help the fire and police department with funding. Crosston said the city of Buckhannon has a municipal fee that helps pay for fire, police and street maintenance.
Hensil said the committee should consider raising the fire fees and then look at a municipal fee. Graziani said he will use Crosston's figures, as well as Buckhannon's fee assessment, to come up with some numbers for an increase.
Mayor Duke Talbott said he is against the flat municipal fee because he views it as oppressive. Any changes to the fire fees would have to be approved by Elkins City Council.
Talbott also provided the committee a list of fines the police department charges people found guilty of breaking the law. He said many of the fines imposed by the city are much lower than what is allowed by state code.
For example, the city fines people convicted of driving under the influence the state minimum of $20. The state maximum is $100. Similar minimum rates are in place for fines such as driving the wrong way on a one way street, failure to use turn signals and running over a fire hose.
Talbott said the fines would have to be studied before any changes would be made.