Proposed fire district sparks debate

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The Neffs Fire Department has approached both the Village of Bellaire and Pultney Township Trustees about the possible formation of a joint-fire district with the intention of contracting with Neffs FD for fire service.

Fire Chief John Driscoll approached Bellaire council early in February and has also met with the trustees and invited all groups out to the fire station in Neffs for further discussion.

Councilmen Jim Piatt and Jim Williams from Bellaire volunteered to be on the exploratory committee. Frank Shaffer is doing so for the trustees.

However, the trustees had some additional questions and Shaffer, along with fellow trustees Mark Cervelli and James Tekelly took those to a meeting with Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter last week.

“You can include any and all of the township area that is mutually agreed upon,” Berhalter stated. “It doesn’t have to be the entire township. However, if part of it doesn’t join then you are still responsible for fire protection for the part that is not included in the fire district.”

That issue came up because Shaffer told Berhalter that he’s already been in talks with Spirit of 76 Fire Department and its members want no part of the district.

Should the district be created, the people covered primarily by Spirit of 76 will not be part of the district and those residents will pay on the levy that currently goes to support 76.

The remaining residents of the township, along with Bellaire itself, will pay for a new levy that supports the fire district.

That amount hasn’t been calculated yet as the proposed district’s fire board, fiscal officer and solicitor have yet to be picked.

“The residents will pay for the levy for the district that they are in, whether the new joint district of 76,” Berhalter said.

A major issue appears to be brimming in terms of who would and wouldn’t vote for the district. The Belmont County Board of Elections Director Bill Shubat informed the trustees that his office would need an updated list of residents to be included should it come up to a vote.

Berhalter suggested the easiest thing to do would be split the township on precinct lines in terms of who would be covered by Neffs or Spirit of 76.

Cervelli noted that will be a problem as the coverage map for the two departments overlaps precinct lines.

“The precincts are split and there could be a big conflict,” Cervelli admitted.

Berhalter also told the trustees about different options they’d have should they form a fire district.

Naturally, the idea is that Neffs will handle fire calls for the joint district.

However, as Berhalter explained, the district doesn’t have to contract with Neffs. It could, theoretically, purchase its own equipment, buy, lease or construct a fire station and hire its own employees.

Of course, doing that would likely require a much larger levy total given the additional start-up costs needed.

Nothing is set in stone yet, not even the fire board and the trustees admitted they have their reservations and need more information.

Hughes may be reached at