Beginning in 2016, West Virginia decided to allow the sale of fireworks past the simple novelty items like snakes and sparklers. Along with the ability to purchase fi reworks within the state came a 12 percent tax on all consumer fi reworks. This tax, however, is different from most, with the money gained being split between two groups. The Veterans Facility Support Fund receives 75 percent of the funds received from the tax. That money goes to assist with various veteran programs throughout the state. The remaining 25 percent of the tax funds are divided among West Virginia’s volunteer fire departments.
Elizabeth Pardue from the West Virginia State Tax Department stated that the legalized sale of a broader range of fireworks that can be sold year-round will help to increase the purchase of fireworks within the state’s borders. These sales will increase the amount that is contributed to the volunteer fire departments. Money from the tax will be deposited equally among all volunteer fire departments. The funds will be placed quarterly into the Fire Protection Fund during the months of January, April, July and October. All 428 departments were set to receive the first payment in October 2016 with each department getting $428.
There are certain stipulations as to what the revenue received by the volunteer fire departments can be used for, according to West Virginia code. The funds can be used for equipment, including personal protective equipment or rescue equipment. It can go toward insurance premiums, such as property and casualty insurance, worker’s compensation and life insurance. The money can also cover certain expenses such as utility bills; reasonable and necessary improvement and maintenance; operating expenses; and training expenses. Training supplies and fire prevention promotional materials up to a certain dollar amount are also allowable.
Davis, W. Va.
Chief Sanford Green of the Canaan Valley Volunteer Fire Department stated that while, at the time, he had no projection on specific dollar amounts that would be received, the general feeling among the firefighting community is that the funds gathered from the firework tax will be a windfall. According to Green, it seems the funds from the tax will be put in the same way as the quarterly municipal pension fund stipend, and so it is unlikely that the departments will know the exact amount received from the tax.
The firework tax funds will be electronically transferred into a state funds account, and then checks will be written for items that are allowed per West Virginia code. Green stated the money will likely go to certain operational expenses such as insurance, worker’s compensations, radios, protective clothing and training. However, the Canaan Valley Volunteer Fire Department is “a solvent corporation with a generous donor base,” according to Green. Therefore, the fire company currently has zero debt, so the funds from this tax will likely make little difference.
On the other hand, Green admitted that this tax initiative could be profoundly important for smaller departments. Green said, “Small communities that, perhaps, do not have any kind of expendable income within their resident donor base, yet require the same fire protection as a larger municipality, are suffering under the burdensome requirements of the state and federal governments. This funding will be welcome relief to these departments.” These funds can help the smaller departments also pay for the necessary training that is required by West Virginia code.
Lavalette, W. Va.
The Lavalette Volunteer Fire Department is one of the departments that can use all the help it can get. A representative of the department stated that any money the department receives is always helpful since the “funding is very limited as to what and when we receive it. We, as volunteers, always struggle to make ends meet on a yearly basis with the mandates out there and little money coming in.” Accordingly, funds gained from the firework tax will likely be spent on equipment.
Morgantown, W. Va.
Sentiments are similar to those at the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department. Chief Jason Christopher and Assistant Chief Paul Porter said that every little bit helps when it comes to funds to help support the department. However, each department is estimated to receive $500 or less per year. The funds the department does receive from the firework tax will be used the same way other state funds are used for expenses, such as equipment, maintenance and training.
Statewide residents paying the firework tax seem to have little to nothing to say on the matter. A 12 percent tax that benefits communities across the state does not seem to hinder the willingness to purchase fireworks within West Virginia for the first time. When it comes to whether these funds will make a difference John Holstein, West Virginia State Firemen’s Association president, said, “The funds received from the fireworks tax by fire departments is very minimal. The use thereof varies from department to department, primarily adding a small amount to the operating budget. Very little difference has been observed by the very limited amount of distribution to the state’s 400-plus fire departments.”