Chief: Fire fee issues being fixed

PARKERSBURG — Wood County fire officials are addressing and working through the problems regarding the new fire fee bill recently mailed to residents.

Kim Marshall, the fire chief for the Deerwalk Volunteer ire Department and chairman of the Wood County Fire Board, said there have been problems with the software used to figure the fee, but those concerns are being addressed.

“There are some problems, but they are not huge problems,” he said.

A number of residents believe they were charged too much or that the amount being charged was below the rate they figured. Others felt the homestead exemption was not correctly figured and there were a number of people in the county still unaware a fire fee had been implemented and thought the bill was a scam. Some people have said they have not received a bill.

Over 23,000 bills have been sent out with around 700 impacted by the software issues that have been figuring the Homestead Exemption incorrectly, Marshall said.

County officials have been trying to work through the software issues.

The majority of calls have been from people checking the validity of the bill and to make sure it is not a scam from someone seeking money, Marshall said, adding the majority have been from seniors.

“Once we tell them that it is not a scam and that it is a new county ordinance, many are fine with it and tell us the check will be in the mail,” Marshall said.

The Wood County Commission is considering moving the date the bills are sent out from July to January which would mean the next bills would not go out until January 2018. The first bills were sent in November after a few delays prevented the bills from being sent earlier.

Sending the bills in January would allow officials access to much more up-to-date information, such as property sales, transfers and new-home construction.

Marshall said the Wood County Fire Board supports this measure and said it was what was initially proposed, but others wanted to send them with the county tax ticket in July.

Marshall said since this was the first time a bill like this was sent that there would be some issues that would need to be addressed, which officials have been doing.

The approved fee is assessed annually at a rate of 2 cents per square foot for residential properties and 3 cents per square foot for commercial and industrial property. The fee for industrial properties is capped at $3,000. It will not apply for buildings that are 100-square-feet or less.

Non-commercial outbuildings, such as a detached garage or a large barn and a couple of sheds, are charged at a flat rate of $5 for the first building and $1 for each additional building.

Churches and religious properties are charged a reduced rate of 1.25 cents per square foot. Residents on the Homestead Exemption will be charged the 1.25 cents per square foot rate as well.

Local volunteer departments said the funds are needed to be able to maintain services and equipment.

The fire board will be scheduling times to meet with people to get the problems with their bills corrected. A representative from the assessor’s office will also be on hand. With the busy holiday season, officials are planning to start those meetings after Christmas.

Marshall said they want to work with people to make sure the amounts being charged are correct.

“We want to make sure everything is accurate and properly documented,” Marshall said, adding officials are also working out straightening up how the information is presented on the bill itself.

Volunteers and county personnel are continuing to handle phone calls and answer people’s questions.

“We do have a handle on it,” Marshall said.