3/3/2013 6:32 PM
by Karen Franklin
LEWISBURG - Residents of Greenbrier County voted against an excess fire levy Saturday that would provide funding for 15 volunteer fire departments.
More than 3,500 voters turned out to the polls. About 68 percent voted against the levy and 32 percent voted for its passage. The results were far from the the 60 percent of votes needed to pass the levy.
One Lewisburg fireman explained how it would affect his station.
"They're going to still try to operate on a day-to-day basis as they have been doing for years, but as we get into the future more and more, and higher ups are going to start making decisions on funding, they're going to have to make decisions to cut funding out of areas that it is desperately needed," Nathaniel Tucker told WOAY.
But voters who spoke with WOAY Saturday seemed to be on board with the levy.
"I think it's necessary, and I say I think if your house is on fire, you're not worried about taxes," Robert Caldwell said.
The passage of the levy would have meant a .1 percent property tax increase for county residents, but because insurance premiums sometimes depend on proximity to fire departments, officials said taxpayers could still save money.
"We can get better equipment and more supplies, better training," Tucker said. "We can offer better services, and that in turn, will eventually drive down the price of your insurance premiums."
Either way, many Lewisburg voters were in support of its passage.
"They do a wonderful job of not just fighting fires, but also they mold your character," Beverly White told woay. "They teach you discipline, so it's more than just a job for them. It's a life-changing experience for anyone that wants to be a firefighter."
The Greenbrier fire levy vote comes after one that successfully passed in Raleigh County last summer. Raleigh fire officials said individual departments receive more than half a million dollars annually from it.
"Relief is an understatement," said Beckley fireman Mike Cowger, whose department just purchased a new $800,000 truck. "Without the levy, it would be hard for any department in the county to make large purchases."
Shawn Wolford, the chairman of the levy committee, said the levy would have generated almost $2 million in its first year. Firefighters were disappointed they won't see that kind of money.
"Like any fire department, people don't really know we're there until they call on us, and we get called out for everything," Tucker said. "From power lines down to your baby's sick. We get called out for pretty much everything."
Tucker says his department already struggles with their budgets being cut in half. The passage of the levy would have meant peace of mind, he told WOAY.