CHARLESTON, W.Va. – In an opinion released this week, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Elkins in a long-standing dispute with a property owner over fire fees.
In 2014, the City of Elkins passed an ordinance expanding the area it charges fire fees to from the city limits to the Elkins Fire Department’s first due response area. The change took effect in July 2015. Prior to that, the Elkins Fire Department had been providing service to its first due area without charging fees, but was not able to cover the department’s budget through fees charged within the city.
The fees were set at a $100 annual flat fee for all residential properties and $0.05 per square foot, with an yearly minimum of $100 for commercial properties.
In August 2017, the city filed a complaint in Randolph County Magistrate Court against commercial property owner Patrick Elza for his failure to pay $363.02 in fire fees. Elza’s annual fire service fee was $262.50. Elza responded that he felt that the fire service fee was illegal and should be declared void.
In November 2017, the case was moved to Randolph County Circuit Court and a trial began in June 2018. During the trial, city officials said that Elza owed $1,275.13 in fees and penalties. Elza testified that he owned a home within city limits and had no issue paying the fire fee for the home, but did not believe he should have to pay a fee for his business that was outside city limits, but within the first due response area.
At the end of the trial, the court found that the fees were reasonable, that the city can’t use money from its general fund to provide services outside the city unless it was getting reasonable payment for those services, and because the city was required to provide those services by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal, it must be paid a fee for doing so. Elza was ordered to pay his delinquent fire fees.
Elza then appealed the circuit court’s decision to the state Supreme Court of Appeals. On Friday, justices ruled in the city’s favor and ordered Elza to pay the $1,275.13 he owes the city. You can read the court’s full decision here.