FAIRMONT — In the 2018 midterm election, the fire levy on the Marion County ballot failed to pass by only about 160 votes.
This levy would have provided thousands of dollars in funding to the 13 volunteer fire departments that serve Marion County, which would have come in handy when the coronavirus pandemic put many of the fundraisers held by VFDs on hold.
“With this COVID-19 thing going around, we are not able to raise any money. We can’t do fundraisers, we can’t do dinners, raffles, gun bashes,” said Roger Channel, chief of the Bunner Ridge Volunteer Fire Department. “All the things that we do to go out in public and try to raise some of our own funding we can’t do.”
Marion County voters in the general election this November will again be able to vote on a levy that would use tax money to help fund the 13 volunteer fire departments that serve the county.
If passed, homeowners will pay 2 cents per $100 in property taxes per year, to go towards the fire levy, and the money collected will be doled out to the 13 volunteer departments at around $62,761 each, according to Marion County Commissioner Randy Elliott.
“We don’t want anything to be an unfair burden to our taxpayers,” said Elliott. “Are you willing to pay $6.22 a year for property taxes if you have a $50,000 home?”
Elliott said the County Commission decided to put the levy back on the ballot this year because the services provided by the volunteer fire fighters in the county are important, even if they are just a reassurance to stop a fire.
“It came very, very close to passing last time,” Elliott said. “The service they provide to Marion County is extremely important. They’re volunteers — they’re jeopardizing their health and welfare and well-being to protect our families and our property. So we want to help them how we can.”
Channel said he believes some voters did not understand the cost to themselves versus the impact of the levy when making their vote in 2018. He said he is working to make sure chiefs of every volunteer fire department understand the levy this year, so they can answer questions to citizens who are uncertain.
“There were a lot of questions about how the levy worked, how much it was going to cost people,” Channel said. “This time around... we are educated now and we are making sure all the departments are educated. That way if anyone out in the community has questions, the fire department will be able to answer.”
Channel estimated that the 13 departments respond to around 5,000 to 6,000 calls annually, and all of those calls potentially put the volunteer fighters in harm’s way. He and Elliott both said financial support from the residents these volunteers help protect would go a long way in helping maintain the different departments.
“This is dramatic, especially right now this year,” Channel said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting at County Commission, Aaron Stevens, acting maintenance engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, updated the Commissioners on the progress of different projects in the county.