West Virginia local firefighters are worried they may lose a significant amount of funding for workers comp insurance.
5 News spoke to firefighters Wednesday, March 9th, 2016, say if the state doesn’t renew the subsidy by June 30th, losing those departments could devastate communities.
“Anywhere between $8,000 and $16,000 that they don’t get reimbursed for, for forking out for workers comp, you know, eventually it would have effects and starts shutting down departments,” says Butch Renner, Chief of the Granville Volunteer Fire Department.
Barry Bledsoe, President of the Marion County Fire Association says small communities simply can’t afford to lost their departments.
“The local fire department is the closest and best thing people have to rely on in case of a problem,” says Bledsoe. “You lose that, and you lose a lot of your community. They lose the security, they lose the safety that the have with that department being there.”
Because insurance premiums for firefighters are extremely high, first responders say without help from the state, it would be almost impossible to make up the difference.
“There are fire departments in West Virginia that are paying as much as $30,000 a year more than they used to pay in workers comp premiums,” says Bledsoe. “Those are some of your bigger departments. Little departments aren’t paying as much, but at the same time, if you’re paying $3,000 more in a small department that has a tight budget, that’s a problem.”
5 News reached out to legislators to find out if they’re working towards a solution. Delegate Patsy Trecost says their fear is that because of the budget crisis, the money for Volunteer Fire Workers Compensation won’t be there come June. He says right now, they’re hoping it can be renewed, but nothing is certain.
“What we’re hoping though, is that the auditor is given directions to give an extension to that so that it can continue to be fully funded,” says Trecost. “We believe that it is in the package as we speak. At the same time, no votes have been taken, nor has anything been signed on the dotted line.”
West Virginia local fire officials are hopeful that something will be done.
“It is imperative that the state legislature do something on this workman’s comp bill. If they don’t, we’re going to lose fire departments in West Virginia, and there’s no place that can afford to lose a fire department,” says Bledsoe.
Another bill has cleared the legislature that would legalize the sale of fireworks to the public. Although volunteer fire departments will gain tax revenue from those sales, they say it won’t be enough to make up for a loss in worker’s comp.