Monongalia County’s largest-and-busiest volunteer fire department is in a dire financial situation and has reached out to the Monongalia County Commission in an effort to keep its engines running.
During a recent commission work session, Star City Volunteer Fire Department representatives Joe Klass and Joe McVey explained the department is more than $600,000 in debt and owes money to the town of Star City and the Internal Revenue Service, among others.
“There is a legitimate chance we may have to shut our doors,” Klass said.
He later added, “We’re going to continue to run calls until the bank comes in and drives our fire trucks away, and there is a legitimate chance that could happen. I don’t know when that would happen. It could be next week. It could be never, but I felt like it was important to let you guys know what was going on and what the potential risks are.”
Klass explained the department handles some 1,100 calls annually, making it among the busiest volunteer departments in West Virginia.
Even so, it receives the same allocation from the county’s volunteer fire excess levy as Monongalia County’s 11 other VFDs. The levy was renewed for four years in 2020 and provides a little over $50,000 annually to each department.
Commissioner Sean Sikora said both the commission and the West Virginia Auditor’s office are working to sort out the department’s books.
Asked if the commission would consider providing funds in order to keep the department open, Sikora said, “It’s possible.”
“I feel bad for them. They’re dealing with a mess, but I’m glad they’re looking for help. They’re looking to us for a little bit of help but before we can help financially in any way, we really need to see exactly where they’re at,” Sikora said. “We had a good call with the auditor’s office today and they’re also going to help with a lot of things.”
McVey said previous department leadership “took out significant capital loans against our property” in 2010 to finance the launch of the department’s EMS service. The department ceased EMS operations last year, eliminating a revenue stream but not the debt.
“We’re dealing with debts that as an agency, yes, we signed up for those. But the people who are there now trying to dig us out of it are not the people who made the decisions,” McVey said. “It’s very unfortunate.”