County considers rules to let fire companies bill insurance for response

by Kate Shunney

A proposed county ordinance being considered by the Morgan County Commission would give local fire departments the ability to send a bill to local property owners and their insurance companies for the cost of fire response.

Commissioners read the draft ordinance for the first time at their December 1 meeting, and will read it a second time at their meeting today, December 15, and seek public comment about it.

Commissioner Sean Forney said the rules would focus on billing insurance companies, not individuals. Forney, who operates an insurance agency in Berkeley Springs, said insurance companies build these charges into their policies.

“Everyone who has a homeowners insurance policy is paying this fee already,” said Forney. The ordinance would allow the county’s fire companies to be reimbursed for materials and staffing used in response to incidents.

Under the ordinance, the Morgan County Commission would approve the bills before they were submitted to insurance companies.

The ordinance, which is available for review on the Morgan County government website, would restrict the billing to $1,500 or under, except in incidents that involve hazardous materials or search and rescue operations.

Forney said his “end objective” would be to hire a part-time county employee to be a claims processing staff member to file bills and collect on them from insurance companies. The funds would go to the responding fire department or departments.

Forney said both Berkeley Springs and Paw Paw fire companies have, in the past, done such billing.

Commissioner Bill Clark said he liked the goal of capturing revenue for local volunteer fire companies, but he had questions about who would be billed.

Commissioners said they don’t want property owners without homeowner’s insurance to receive a bill for fire service.