VOLUNTEER fire departments, essential to public safety, face a cost crunch. Some public officials in Kanawha County have indicated interest in a fire levy to provide the needed funds.
But getting voters to pass a fire levy that directs public funds to privately run volunteer fire departments depends on convincing the public that all of these organizations 1) need to exist, and 2) handle public money responsibly.
To their credit, Kanawha County commissioners started requiring departments to submit a little more financial information. Most readily complied.
But two departments have made news for financial irregularities. Raising confidence may take a while.
Steve Johnson, a member of the board of the Chesapeake department, is paid about $30,000 a year by the communications company. His son, P.J. Johnson, is paid about $56,000 a year as chief of the department.
The Chesapeake department initially refused to provide information requested by the county, and later refused to supply information sought by the state legislative auditor's division. That led legislative auditor Aaron Allred to tell state Treasurer John Perdue on Jan. 2 to withhold all state funds from the department.
Thus the Chesapeake department did not receive about $12,000 generated by the 0.5 percent surcharge on fire and casualty insurance premiums. The department supplied the documentation on Jan. 9, but it has not yet been reviewed.