Residents of the city of Elkins will soon see an increase in their fire fees. City Council on Thursday gave final approval to the measure that will raise the tax by 50 percent in a three-step phase.
Several council members have said they knew the decision would be unpopular, yet with the need for additional funding for the fire department they had no other choice.
Few city residents have spoken out publicly in opposition to the proposed hike and others have debated the issue privately.
The measure on Thursday passed 9-1, with Councilman Mark Scott, 3rd Ward, casting the only dissenting vote. His reasoning, as many have heard, is that he has an alternative plan to tax residents who live outside the city limits but within the fire department's primary service area. This, he says, would result in a lower cost for those paying the fee and a higher return for the fire department. In addition, those living in the service area would receive the same fire protection as those within the city.
Bridgeport is one of two West Virginia cities that have adopted the plan, but there's a problem - it's being challenged in court. Scott and some other members of council say they're interested in learning the outcome of these suits, and so are we.
So far, a lot of talk surrounding the fee hike has had to do with money - council regretted having to raise taxes and residents don't want to have to put out more money. All that makes perfect sense, but shouldn't we also place more emphasis on the amount and type of fire protection for our residents on the edge of the city limits?
As it stands, and this is according to several statements made by city officials, paid and volunteer firefighters and all of their equipment would respond to a blaze within the city limits; if a fire were to occur outside the city, 12 volunteers and two trucks would come to the scene. Whether this truly is what would happen is unknown. Still, shouldn't we have a policy, the manpower and, yes, the money to make a difference in saving a structure or life?
Scott says the alternative plan is up for discussion at the city's next Rules and Ordinance Committee meeting. Councilman Jim Bibey, 5th Ward, says if Bridgeport's fee stands up in court, the city then could consider it.
For the sake of safety, let's hope they continue thinking along these lines.