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Volunteer firefighters receive public funds

Hundreds of thousands of people depend on West Virginia's more than 400 volunteer fire departments for fire protection and assistance in all kinds of emergencies.

But those departments face higher costs, particularly for workers compensation insurance, and

the protection they provide cannot be taken for granted.

Some county commissions have imposed fire fees on residents. Others have not.

But the requests for taxpayer assistance just keep coming.

Kanawha County is served by a patchwork of six paid fire departments and 27 volunteer departments. The county commission now provides $300,000 to fire departments each year.

But the departments want more public funds.

Naturally, the public wants more assurance the money is needed and will be spent wisely. After all, these departments have varying degrees of professionalism and accounting skills.

The Kanawha County Commission paid for an audit of the Institute Volunteer Fire Department that turned up evidence of some misuse of department funds. The Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department was also required to submit to an audit when the commission discovered that the nonprofit also operated three for-profit businesses - including video lottery machines - and paid salaries totaling more than $100,000 a year.

Such experiences led commissioners to require departments to submit copies of their federal 990 forms before receiving county funds.

Five departments - Chesapeake, Smithers, Lakewood, Tornado and Handley - have not yet complied, but Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman is confident they will.

"The county commission has an obligation if they're giving our public money to make sure that money is spent appropriately," Sigman told the Gazette's Rusty Marks.

It's as simple as that. People who want public money must submit to public scrutiny. It's wise policy on the part of the commission.



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