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Putnam fire board rebuffs Teays Valley VFD's wishes

POCA, W.Va. -- Putnam County Fire Board members upheld a decision made by county fire chiefs and did not grant the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department anything that its fire chief had asked for to stay a part of the board.

However, Teays Fire Chief John Smoot said the department most likely would stay with the board.

"We didn't get anything," Smoot said. "I think we'll stay, but our department still has to vote on it."

In November last year, Teays Valley hired an attorney and told the county's fire board it would leave the board and become a nonprofit agency as of July 1.

Teays Valley's desire to withdraw came after several attempts to raise the annual county fire fee, which funds Putnam's eight volunteer fire departments. In October 2011, commissioners denied the request a second time. The fee hasn't been raised in more than 20 years.

In January, Smoot said he wanted to negotiate because of criticism that if Teays Valley left the fire board it could be disbanded. Smoot had asked the board to, among other things, develop a revenue-distribution plan from fire fee money based on district population and response numbers and allow firefighters to be paid per call and to provide incentives for volunteers.

He also requested the departments take over the debt owed on fire trucks, and that titles for the trucks be turned over by the fire board to individual fire departments.

Smoot had said he planned to fund the station through a subscription program, which would be optional for residents who are served by the station.

County chiefs met several times at the request of the fire board to come to an agreement about Smoot's requests. Earlier this week, the chiefs who were present at the meeting agreed to keep things the same and not adopt Smoot's changes. Smoot abstained from voting.

A main reason Smoot said he believes his department won't leave the fire board is because he's optimistic the county fire fee eventually will be raised.

Putnam fire departments are working to gather signatures in support of raising the fee to persuade Commissioners Joe Haynes and Gary Tillis to change their votes. Commissioner Steve Andes, president of the fire board, voted to raise the fee.

At the fire board meeting Thursday, members voted to virtually keep everything the same as it has been, but now county chiefs will hold a meeting and must come to a consensus to make a recommendation to the board before any department can make a major purchase.

New requirements, such as paying down the debt, making facility improvements and phasing in paid firefighters, will occur only if the fire fee is increased, said Winfield Chief Kevin Watson.

Watson and Hurricane Chief Frank Stover said Teays Valley's plan wouldn't have worked.

"It would've hurt other departments in the county," Stover said. "Yeah, he needs more, Hurricane needs more but, with the current rate structure, that can't happen. With an increase, maybe it could eventually happen."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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