A volunteer fire department in southeastern Kentucky says it will begin collecting fees from subscribers next week.
Bell County Assistant Fire Chief David Miracle told the Middlesboro Daily News on Monday that the fee is voluntary and that no one would be denied service. But he said not paying it could lead to higher costs for homeowners.
For instance, Miracle said if insurance didn’t pay for all fees associated with fighting a blaze, the homeowner would be liable for that amount unless they are subscribers. He said a non-subscriber with no insurance would be held responsible for the entire bill.
The Bell County Volunteer Fire Department closed two of its nine stations in December, citing a lack of funding.
The fire department says it will begin collecting the fee on Jan. 1 and the annual charge will depend on the type of dwelling. A single-family residence will be $60, a farm with structures will be $75 and businesses or multi-family dwellings will be $150. The department said exemptions to the fees would include churches, schools and government facilities.
The move comes in a long-running dispute between county officials and the fire department. In 2007, the department and the county’s fiscal court went to federal court over the threat of four stations closing. Since then, both sides have been in and out of litigation over how fire services are funded. The newspaper reports the current ordinance requires the fire department to submit receipts for reimbursement instead of getting a certain amount from the Fiscal Court each year.
On Monday, Miracle said the fire department is a nonprofit corporation and compared it to other companies that the county uses on a contractual basis.
Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock, who was denied access to the fire department’s press conference, told the newspaper he disagreed with that description.
“Since the fire department’s inception, the taxpayer has given them over $6 million,” Brock said. “They are a nonprofit group established to provide service.”
He said the county plans to halt funding to the department over the two closures.
“At this point, we can’t fund them, if they’re closing stations,” he said.