CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Commission voted Wednesday to pay firefighters at Yeager Airport if the government shutdown lasts more than a week or so.
The 130th Airlift Wing, located across the runway from the main Yeager Airport terminal in Charleston, employs 30 firefighters who provide fire and rescue services for the airport. The firefighters work for the West Virginia National Guard, but their salaries are reimbursed by the federal government.
However, Maj. Gen James Hoyer, state adjutant general, said the federal government won't pay the reimbursements while the government is shut down. State officials have agreed to keep paying the firefighters for the next seven days in hopes of being reimbursed once Congress reaches a budget deal and the shutdown is lifted, but don't know if they can afford to keep paying them much longer than that.
At an emergency meeting of the Kanawha County Commission held Wednesday, county commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores agreed to step in to make sure the firefighters are paid if the shutdown drags on.
"We can't fool around with this," Carper said. He, Hardy and Shores said the county can't take a chance on leaving Yeager Airport without fire protection.
If the airport were to lose fire protection, it would essentially close the airport for commercial traffic. "Airlines could still come, but they wouldn't," said Airport Director Rick Atkinson.
Hoyer said it will cost about $40,000 a week to pay the firefighters. Hardy suggested money to keep paying their salaries could come from the county's $5 million contingency fund.
Commissioners also agreed to write a letter to West Virginia's senators and representatives telling them how worried they are about funding cuts to National Guard members. Congress passed a last-ditch bill Tuesday to fund military personnel, but Hoyer said it doesn't apply to the National Guard.
Hoyer said 1,500 National Guard employees were furloughed or idled Tuesday because of the government shutdown. He said state officials are talking with the state's congressional delegation to try to make sure Guard personnel get paid.
Commissioners also had harsh words for the Senate and House of Representatives for allowing the government shutdown to happen in the first place. "It seems like crisis is the new normal up in Washington," Hardy said.
"Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave."
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.