Previous Funding Questions Revisited
At the regular meeting of the Tucker County Commission on Aug. 14, Tom Klus asked to address the commissioner on behalf of the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department and as a citizen of Tucker County.
Klus wanted to begin his presentation to the commission by revisiting his previous concerns about a detailed explanation of the Hotel/Motel tax disbursement. He stated, “I want to begin by thanking everybody that I’ve bothered the last two weeks with all my questions, especially Clerk Simmons, she was very helpful and patient.” Klus went on to state the facts as he interprets them to be are as follows. Number one: All money that was budgeted on the income side has been distributed. Number two: That while there was a surplus coming in over budget in the hotel/motel tax, the money was legally distributed to another fund contrary to the way it may have been done in the past. Klus stated that though he might not necessarily agree with the administrative decision that was made, he accepted it.
Klus went on to state that with regard to the hotel/motel tax, he had printed out the WV state code and can see where there might be a concern about certain things. “The one thing I want to make public record is , I find in the code that the hardships that a county suffers are listed, and those hardships are why you can use the hotel/motel tax the way you can. Section 9: part F says that a hardship is if there is one and only one hospital within the county. I would assume that there is an assumption that every county has one hospital. Having no hospital must be a real hardship, at least in my mind. I consulted with a couple of attorneys about that and they said that sounds reasonable, whatever that means.” Klus said, “I thank everybody for the conversations we have had over the past two weeks and to me this matter is closed.” Klus, addressing the commission at a later point in the meeting, began his funding request by stating, “ I could just dump the request on you, speak in generalities and go about my businees, but I guess that’s not how I operate.”
Klus stated that he believes the fire departments have two basic forms of resources that are converted into assets for the communities they serve, equipment and people. He further explained that people agree to make at least a 120 hour training commitment before they are even allowed on a fire truck.
Next, with regards to equipment, Klus showed the commission a fire hose and stated, “The cost of this hose is $225.” He went on to state that ISO (which helps municipalities keep lower insurance rates) requires 1,200 feet of hose on each Class A Pumper truck. Since Parsons has two such trucks that meet the ISO requirements and also has a 1,200 foot reserve, this results in a cost of $16,200. He went on to state that two of the fire trucks in the bays in Parsons were outside the 10 year rotation recommended by the NFPA and would have to soon be replaced.
Klus then went on to reference the new courthouse annex. He stated that the fire department had been asked to attend a meeting on the new annex and that he was in attendance. He went on to say that the PVFD was asked what they might need in regards to the annex. Klus said, “I asked for a hose rack for a pre-deployed fire hose on the upper floor, so a fireman wouldn’t have to carry a hose up four flights of stairs. I was told the fire marshal said they were illegal.” He continued with stating that he showed Mr. Dilly a valve to attach to the stairwell stand pipes and said that they would need to have six of them at a cost of $275 each if they were pre-deployed. Klus said that Dilly replied, “I don’t know if they would go for that.” Klus indicated that he believed the “they” to be the commission. To which Commissioner Hinkle stated, “ He spoke correctly, he would not know.” The commission then made it known that nobody would know what they would go for if it wasn’t requested.
Klus stated, “Pre-deployment of a resource makes it quicker to implement it as an asset.”
Klus went on to present all the items that a fireman would have to carry up the stairs in the annex to combat a fire, including hose, valves, reserve air tanks, a fireman’s master key (which is used to enter secure doors or windows and there are approximately 100 doors in the annex) all while wearing a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus.
Commissioner Rosenau said, “To go back, we asked Mr. Dilly to come talk to you, because you were at our last meeting with a valve. I though it would be a good idea to find out where the fire departments ordered the valves in case we should have to have them on the stairwell stand pipes.” Klus replied, “I’m not trying to put you in a defensive posture; I’m not criticizing any actions; I’m just trying to justify a significant funding request.”
In making this request, Klus referred to a story he saw on WBOY TV stating that Marion County was giving all 12 of their fire departments $18,000. He added that county commissions are allowed to give whatever monies they may want to fire departments.
Klus added that he had researched and found that the Tucker County Budget was $2.072 million in 2010 and the next projected budget would be $2.546 million. This increase is due to the 2008 Statewide Equalization of Appraisals Act. “With new assessments, come increased tax revenue, approximately 10%.” Klus stated.
Klus continued, “So, I am requesting on behalf of the PVFD, $20,000 to go along with the $16,200 we already have from the Hotel/Motel tax. As a citizen of Tucker County, I further believe it to only be fair that the other three fire departments receive the same funding so I ask that they each be given an additional $20,000.
This is a total request of $80,000 to be split four ways among the county fire departments, with the money to come from the increase tax revenue the county is now receiving. I would further ask that a budget revision be done on line item 14 to be changed from $65,000 to $145,000, so that the money would be included this year. Barring this, I will be back in March, 2014 to once again present this request. I know that it cannot be done at this time, so I ask the commissioners to carry this down the steps. Safety costs money.”
Klus concluded with, “In closing,. I appreciate your time, I appreciate your concern and I will wait for you to contact me. The last thing is, I hope you find favor with my request.”
County Clerk Sherry Simmons asked at this time if she could respond to a reference. Klus had made regarding Marion County. Simmons said, “Counties are in classifications from 1 – 10 with number one being your best county. Marion County is a three with a population of 56,678 and Tucker County is a five with a population of 6,995. I feel that Tucker County (being the second smallest county) has done a remarkable job in supporting our fire departments, EMS, and many other organizations that have come before us seeking assistance. When you reference Marion County giving $18,000 with that much larger a tax base, being a class three, I think Tucker County should be extremely proud to be able to help the way we are able to help. Tucker County has the best citizens in the world. They pay their taxes and take care of us, and in return allows we do our best to take care of you, our schools, and our children. That is our job, we are public servants.”
Simmons went on to state that only two other counties were classified as a class three and are the only counties Tucker should be referenced with and they are Lincoln with a population of 21,627 and Tyler whose population is 16,900 and they fund their fire departments and EMS with levies. (Populations referenced are per the 2012 Census) “We can’t compare ourselves with the larger counties.” Simmons stated.
Klus responded with, “I did not mean to say that budgetarily you don’t do a great job, all I’m saying is that our costs are going up, and I’m either a day late or the early bird.”
Ray LaMora said, “Just to address Hotel/Motel, I have been in calls with the state assessor, state auditor, the state tax department and I’m not sure what my recommendation is going to be to the county commission at the moment. But I don’t know if it is appropriate for any of that money to be spent on emergency services for this county because of the exact code you talked about. There isn’t a hospital in this county. I agree it’s a hardship, but when the code is specific, and there are zero annotations to give you any guidance following it, as a lawyer, you look at the four corners of the document. Within the four corners of this page there is nothing that says that this money can be spent this way, because of this section.”
Klus asked, “ So this one line disqualifies us?”
LaMora responded, “In my opinion, yes. Until I can speak with somebody high enough in the state tax department to give me a yes or no, I think the disbursement of Hotel/Motel tax money is in a state of limbo right now.”
LaMora went on to say that the county commission has limited resources and would have to find the funding from other means if the hotel/motel tax is taken away for emergency funding. He went on to say that he could not speak for the commission, all he could do was give his interpretation.
Commissioner Hinkle agreed with Klus in thinking that zero hospitals would fall under the hardship section.
Klus went on to say that he hopes LaMora is wrong in his interpretation of the code, but the county may not have to worry about funding, because it is getting harder to get the “people” resource these days to come into the fire departments.
Rosenau stated that it would require more investigation into the code to see what they would be allowed to do.
Rosenau stated, “I want to commend all the fire departments. They do a wonderful job.”
Klus once again thanked the commission and said he would wait on a response.
Editor’s note: After the meeting Klus stated “I am not asking to sacrifice out of the current total budget, but on all new additional revenue created by rising appraisals. Base on my info appraisals of property are rising, not for certain, but, I believe it is from statewide mandate.”