Morgantown city councilors took the first step Tuesday to try to solve the city’s ongoing problem with malicious burnings
Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that increases penalties for burnings and clarifies language to include more activity as unlawful.
The ordinance is in reaction to a case last year in which malicious burning charges were dismissed because a judge did not believe the accused acted “willfully and maliciously.” Council is working to change the ordinance to read “willfully and/or maliciously” burning.
“The fire department made a request to make the modifications to the ordinance,” interim City Manager Jeff Mikorski said. “We had a situation where a judge made the distinction between willful and malicious, and we wanted to make sure the ordinance is clear to say willful and/or malicious.”
The ordinance would also increase fines. Under the current ordinance, $1,000 is the maximum fine; the new ordinance would make $1,000 the minimum fine and a $2,000 maximum fine.
The city has long battled problems with street and dumpster fires, especially after major WVU football and basketball wins. The worst of the problems in recent memory came during St. Patrick’s Day last year when dozens of fires were set around the city.
Before it becomes law, the ordinance will have to pass council on second reading. The state Fire Marshal will also have to approve the ordinance before implementation.