Elkins City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that will increase fire fees by 50 percent over three years during a special meeting on Wednesday. Councilman and Finance Committee Chair Bob Woolwine, 1st Ward, said it is the first increase in the rate since the 1970s.
"The fire department has been running in a deficit for years because the fire fees are to low and we have to use money from the general fund," Woolwine told The Inter-Mountain following the meeting. "A few years ago we changed the amount of square footage that was assessed."
The 50 percent increase will be phased in over three years with the first 20 percent increase coming on Sept. 1 if the ordinance passes a second reading. The second and third phase will both be 15 percent and go into effect on Sept. 1 2012, and Sept. 2, 2013.
City Treasurer Lisa Daniels Smith said building owners are currently assessed a fee of 0.325 cents per square foot and following the full implantation of the increase the assessed fee would be 0.487 cents per square foot.
"All the revenue goes to the fire department," she said. "It will free money up in the general fund to go toward other things."
According to Smith, the city currently brings in about $330,000 per year and the increase will bring in an additional $65,000 the first year and an $50,000 in the next two years of the increase. Smith said after the rate is fully in place the city will be bringing in about $500,000 in fire fee revenue.
"We don't have enough money to operate the way it is," Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader told The Inter-Mountain. "If we have to rely on the revenue coming in, we have to increase it."
Elkins City Attorney said the ordinance will have to pass a second reading on Sept. 1 before it goes into effect. She said the city must also make a legal announcement about the increase and hold a public hearing before the city can take action on the second reading.
Councilman Danny Satterfield, 5th Ward, asked why council had to have a special meeting to consider the increase.
"I wish I knew," Councilman and Finance Committee Member Tom Hensil, 2nd Ward, said. "It somehow fell through the cracks."
City Council will next meet at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18.