Follansbee Council members discuss loss of county fire levy funds, state fire insurance monies

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Warren Scott FIRE FUNDING AT ISSUE — The loss of funding for the city’s fire department blamed on delinquent reporting was discussed at a special Follansbee Council meeting, Wednesday.

FOLLANSBEE — Follansbee Council discussed the loss of county fire levy funds and state fire insurance monies for the city’s fire department and a remedy to the delinquent reporting blamed for it, on Wednesday.

In 2017, City Fire Chief Larry Rea was criticized for missing a deadline for reports required by the state Fire Marshal’s Office, resulting in the loss of such funds.

On Monday, Mayor David Velegol Jr. said it happened again in 2018 and 2020, causing the department to lose about $89,950 in county fire levy funds and $10,000 in state fire insurance monies.

The state’s fire departments must submit incident reports for each call to be eligible for a portion of surcharges on fire and casualty insurance paid by policyholders.

Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas, who attended the meeting with fellow commissioner Stacey Wise, said the commission relies on the reports when disbursing fire levy funds to each of the county’s fire departments.

Councilman at large John Casinelli said the practice was begun when he was a county commissioner because the commission learned a volunteer fire department had continued to accept levy money after disbanding.

Thomas said when a department fails to submit the required reporting, its funds are divided among the county’s other departments.

Under the five-year levy, each department receives $44,795 per year.

Following the meeting, Rea said he has adhered to a 90-day grace period established for the reports by the fire marshal’s office that the county commission doesn’t follow.

Velegol said the loss of funds aside, Rea has been a great asset as fire chief.

“Larry comes to every call. He has aided citizens at all hours and is involved in mutual aid (to other departments),” he said.

The mayor added Rea has secured nearly $4 million in grants for the fire department, including $480,000 for a foam truck used for industrial fires.

But Velegol said the city can’t continue to lose money for which the fire department is entitled, so he, City Manager Jack McIntosh and City Attorney Michael Gaudio have discussed solutions.

The mayor said Joe Kafton, a member of the volunteer department, has offered to complete the reports and other volunteer firefighters also have indicated a willingness to help.

“There’s a very high regard for Larry in that department,” said Velegol, who added, “I think this plan is going to work.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Alexis Russel said she agreed that Rea “is very responsive whenever someone needs him.”

But added, “We still need to have assurance this (reporting) is going to happen on time.”

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Wendy DeAngelis agreed, saying, “I just want to know how we’re going to be assured because we’ve been talking about this for a long time.”

“When the fire department needs money in the future, that’s something we’re going to look at,” she warned.

Following the meeting, Rea said he’s confident the new approach will work.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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