2018-01-13 / Featured

Fire leaders mull walkout again


Timberlake firefighters and their families stuff envelopes during a mailing fundraiser. 
submitted Timberlake firefighters and their families stuff envelopes during a mailing fundraiser. submitted While the Timberlake Fire/Rescue Department has already drafted a letter of intent not to renew its contract with the county unless it receives adequate funding, other departments may be close behind.

The Person County Fire Chiefs Association met Thursday night and decided to allow one week for other departments to decide if they want to follow suit.

It is expected that at least half of the county’s eight volunteer fire departments will agree by the Thursday, 5 p.m. deadline, although some will likely not join in because they have debt payments which would throw them into dire financial straits should they not have the county’s funds coming in.

Many fire department board members were invited to attend Thursday’s meeting since they, and not the chiefs, must sign the letters of intent.

County Commissioner Ray Jeffers was also on hand and said he was already hearing from business owners they opposed increasing the sales tax by a quarter cent, the latest proposal by commissioners to raise the necessary funds. That proposal is scheduled to be on the May 8 election ballot.

Jeffers said he has reservations about the referendum because it would be non-binding, and any funds generated could go to other purposes. He pointed to a 2008 bond referendum for bonds to build a senior center, passed by voters but with the funds never used for the senior center as originally intended.

Likewise, there was general opposition to a plan presented by Assistant County Manager Sybil Tate that would avoid a tax increase but only raise fire department funding by 10 percent instead of the 50 percent being requested as part of the fire/rescue tax.

Nevertheless, Jeffers said he thought a majority of commissioners would be leaning toward Tate’s proposal, since the majority were opposed to any sort of tax increase.

After Jeffers left to attend another meeting, Association president Wayne Wrenn said it was important that the fire departments present a unified front to commissioners.

Association Vice President and Hurdle Mills Fire Chief Martin Rimmer said the Ceffo Department had already given a verbal commitment to sign a letter of intent, and not agree to what Tate proposed.

Michael Smith, president of the Timberlake Volunteer Fire Department board of directors, said he did not like the sales tax idea because it is non-binding and the money could easily be spent for purposes other than the fire departments.

Smith said he felt there were two commissioners who were dug in and holding their ground against any sort of tax increase.

“They have taken the position where they don’t want to hear about it any more,” he said. “We have to take a stance.”

Rick Gentry, a member of the Allensville Volunteer Fire Department’s board of directors, asked about the departments with outstanding loans.

Rimmer said he understood that some departments could not sign a letter of intent because of financial reasons.

The fire chiefs set the Jan. 18 deadline in order to present them to commissioners at their next meeting Jan. 22.

Also presented will be letters from those departments that are financially strapped and must renew their contracts because of their debt obligations.

“Something has to be done,” Smith said. “Sustainability is the issue. We have aging equipment and things are breaking down.”

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