TEAYS VALLEY, W.Va. — An over $2 million emergency services levy that failed to be passed in Putnam County in the 2022 general election by a narrow margin is now up again for this coming May primary.

Teays Valley Fire Department Chief John Smoot said on 580 Live with Dave Allen Tuesday that The Putnam County Public Safety Levy which received 52% of the vote in the November 2022 election but needed at least a 60% vote to pass is again being put on the table.

John Smoot

He said this time the $2.5 million proposed in the levy will only apply to the Putnam County Fire Service if passed. It’s to help with fire service expenses, operating costs, and hiring more firefighters.

Smoot said the biggest aspect of the levy is meant to help alleviate staffing shortages fire departments in the county have been facing, and which began to spiral following the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

“The demands that were placed on first responders and what we were walking into, a lot of people thought it was a lot of unknowns and they just really don’t find it appealing to come into that kind of business anymore,” Smoot said.

However, Smoot said for the Teays Valley Fire Department, the need for more funding to address staffing goes all the way back to 2012.

He said at that point, they were running about 1,000 calls per year and were out of the station about 50% of the time, all while operating with very limited staff.

Smoot said it was then when they realized they could no longer remain a volunteer-based fire department.

“So, there were really obstacles that have been in the making for over a decade now,” he said.

But, he said at that point they were able to re-build themselves from the ground up by seeking out staffing grants, extending duty to 24 hours a day and paying employees.

Now, however, Smoot said with calls reaching the 4,000 mark per year and staffing having to revert back to 12 hour duties instead of 24 hours on fire apparatus, the need for more firefighters is greater than ever in Putnam County. He says they have good equipment, good vehicles, but all of that is irrelevant without the right number of people to operate them.

Smoot said the last time the levy was on the ballot it was set at a $3 million request, with $1.8 million to go to the fire service and $1.2 million toward EMS. Between 2022 and now, however, Smoot said it was decided that the levy should only focus its funds on the fire services in Putnam.

He said he also suspects the timing just not being right two years ago for the levy to pass.

“I wonder if were out early enough to get the message out enough, I wonder if we were in the right places to get the messages out, and we were working in a really tight time window,” he said.

What could happen if the levy fails to pass this time around Smoot said would be similar to what the Teays Valley Fire Department had already been faced with last summer, which is forcing the services to have to really stretch themselves thin in order to operate effectively.

“We’re running into funding issues, we’re trying to supply emergency medical services to the community while still providing funding to staff fire trucks, that is a difficult balance to reach,” said Smoot.

He said an oddity they also now face with the issue is that the money they accumulate over the fire service fees can no longer currently be used to pay worker’s salaries, nor can the money they receive through their insurance premium surtax. So, Smoot said, when it comes to funding for staffing, there has to be another pot of money made available.

Smoot said they are fairly certain the vote needs to be at a 50% + 1 to pass this time around.

He encourages Putnam residents to vote for the levy as it all comes back to staffing and services.

“If we do not have people to do the work for the demand that’s being presented to us, we are just not going to be able to offer good service,” Smoot said.

Smoot said while they still find themselves on a short time threshold to emphasize the need of the levy’s passage in the county, they are trying to reach out to multiple areas and facets of the community, including on social media.