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Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department could lose discount on fuel purchases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department could be prohibited from purchasing discounted fuel on a county contract due to an outstanding bill.

The department still owes the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority $584.41 for gasoline and diesel fuel purchased at the Marmet fueling station, said Denny Dawson, authority general manager.

The fire department has until Dec. 5 to pay the bill, Dawson said.

The transportation authority administers the fuel contract, which allows agencies to purchase gasoline and diesel fuel at a discount.

Under the contract, fire departments and law enforcement agencies can buy gas for $2.84 per gallon and diesel fuel for $3.39 per gallon.

If barred from the program, the department would have to pay regular fuel prices.

This is not the first time Chesapeake has run afoul of the authority. Last year, fire department officials failed to pay a $1,500 fuel bill.

"This is just really frustrating," Dawson said. "It's like pulling teeth to get them to pay their bills."

Until this month, the fire department owed $2,479.18 on an outstanding balance from June, Dawson said. The authority made many attempts to collect, but officials were unsuccessful for months. He said several phone calls were attempted.

 "Our accounts receivable guy called and called, and he couldn't get anyone to call back," Dawson said.

He said certified letters were sent but no one at the department would sign for them.

The authority finally hand-delivered a letter on Nov. 15, Dawson said. Four days later, the fire department sent a check for $1,894.77.

An outstanding balance remains.

"We've been more than lenient," he said.

Department Chief P.J. Johnson did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story. Steve Johnson, president of the fire department's board, declined to comment when reached by phone.

The department's finances have been under scrutiny recently. The Kanawha County Commission paid for an audit of the department's financial records after it failed to pay a fuel bill last year, Commissioner Dave Hardy said.

To date, the department still has not provided all of the records needed for the audit, he said. Fire department officials also asked commissioners to sign a confidentiality agreement about the audit. Commissioners refused.

"It surprised me that they're not paying this bill, especially in light of all the financial trouble they've been in recently," Hardy said.

Hardy said fire department officials would be wasting taxpayer dollars if they opted to purchase gas at regular price. Because he hasn't seen the department's finances, he doesn't know if it would be able to pay the bill.

"It seems like they're more interested in paying about $80,000 worth of salaries than they are paying their bills," Hardy said.

P.J. Johnson's salary is about $56,000 per year. His father, Steve Johnson, collects about $30,000.

Steve Johnson collects his salary for services provided to Communications Services Inc., a for-profit businesses the fire department owns, according to attorney Larry Kopelman.

The County Commission generally provides $20,000 to each fire department in the county annually.

However, the previous financial issues at the department prompted commissioners to begin paying directly to the fire department's vendors instead of to the department itself.  

Commission President Kent Carper believes the fire department will pay its bill and the "dust up" soon will settle.

"I assume this will work itself out," he said.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon. ;;  


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