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Kanawha withholding funds till VFDs show financials

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials are withholding funding for five volunteer fire departments that have not provided financial data.

Every year, the Kanawha County Commission doles out more than $300,000 to help fund fire departments that serve county residents. Twenty-seven volunteer fire departments and half a dozen paid departments serve the county.

For years, the county has given each department $20,000. The Smithers Volunteer Fire Department, which is in Fayette County but answers calls across the border in Kanawha County, gets $10,000.

Last year, Commissioners Kent Carper, Hoppy Shores and Dave Hardy voted to require the departments to submit federal tax form 990 or similar documents to the county before receiving their money. Most fire departments are required to fill out form 990 anyway.

After a former employee embezzled more than $20,000 from the Institute Volunteer Fire Department, commissioners want to make sure fire departments are spending money properly.

Hardy has also been butting heads with officials from the Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department, which runs a for-profit radio business and bingo games as fundraisers. Chesapeake officials have been reluctant to turn over financial data to the county, but have agreed to share financial information.

Chesapeake is among the departments that have still not turned over their 990s to the county. The other departments are Smithers, Lakewood, Tornado and Handley.

County commissioners released funding to the county's other fire departments last week but voted to hold the money for the other departments until they provide financial data.

Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman has been acting as a liaison between the fire departments and the county. Although one or two fire chiefs told him they don't want to turn over financial forms, Sigman believes they all will turn in their paperwork soon. Sigman said several of the departments are still working on their forms.

"The books are supposed to be open to the public," Sigman said. "The County Commission has an obligation if they're giving out public money to make sure that money is spent appropriately.

"If you want county money, this is what the County Commission voted to do," Sigman said.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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