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Court will continue its support of fire fee

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By Geoff Hamill and Jesse Osbourne

All signs point to the end of the fire protection conflict in the county as the Washington County Fiscal Court showed its support to continue the $45 fire fee Monday. The Washington County Fire Protection Association had requested that formal support as the group seeks funding to construct a new fire station.

“They want a statement of support from us in regards to the $45,” magistrate Greg Simms said. “They’re having a meeting (Monday night). With that statement of support, they would drop the 90 days and we would move forward with this.”
Magistrate Hal B. Goode inquired if the fire department just needed a statement of support as a vote of confidence.
“Last time in this court, we voted to do it. There’s never been anything else to decide,” Goode said.
Simms said it was a confidence issue since the fire department is in pursuit of funding for a new station.
Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles wanted to clarify the court’s role in the $45 fee.
“From what I hear you saying, we need to make a statement for the record that this court is supportive of maintaining the subscription fee as-is. I will caution you that in that ordinance, it states that anyone that is served by that fire department can bring a petition to this court,” Settles said. “We have no control over that. We can control what happens inside this court room but we have no control over if somebody from the public brings in a petition.”
Goode made the motion to give a statement of support, Simms seconded the motion, which passed 6-0.
The fire protection association’s request for the court’s support came at a fire committee meeting on Thursday. In exchange for the fiscal court formally offering its support to the fire protection association, Simms, who also serves on the fire committee, told his fellow members that the county and its citizens need the fire protection association to remove its self-imposed 90-day deadline to eliminate fire protection to the county.
During Thursday’s committee meeting, John Goatley, the WCFPA’s vice president and training officer, indicated that the fire protection association would be able to discuss the issue, and he expected that a decision to remove the deadline could come Monday.
In the end, that decision could not be made due to the absence of at least two key members. According to Goatley, both Springfield Fire Chief Jim Logsdon and Washington County Fire Chief Forrest Carrico were out of town on Monday and could not attend the meeting. He said the group is looking to meet at some time during this week and discuss the removal of the 90-day deadline. The 90-day deadline was put in place by the fire protection association through a letter to the editor delivered to The Springfield Sun on Dec. 20, and would go into effect around the end of March if no resolution could be reached.

Seeking building funds
Also at Thursday’s fire committee meeting, magistrate Simms, who also serves on that committee, said he had been made aware by Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon) that grant money could be available around the summer that could possibly benefit the WCFPA as it plans to construct a new building. Simms was asked by other members of the committee if it was grant money or a loan, and he stressed that it was grant money, which would be free if received.
Simms said the money Higdon spoke of could be available around June or July, which is when the Community Development Block Grant funding cycle begins.
“I’m not trying to hold it up, but he was pretty positive,” Simms said of the possible funding option.
Goatley said after previous attempts to get grant money that failed to produce results, he doesn’t think waiting is the best idea.
“My opinion is, we went down that alleyway  before, and I’m not even interested. If they can get the grants, finally, that’s fine, but I’m not waiting. I don’t want to wait any longer,” Goatley said. “We tried that two years ago, and we thought we would get money from the state. Nothing. I killed a year. We came in here, met with the judge (Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles), was going to get money through (then-Senator Dan) Kelly, it was going to go through Frankfort, and I killed a whole year waiting, trying to get money. Nothing happened. Zero. The department, I don’t think, is willing to wait another six months. The grant money then maybe or maybe will not be there. . . My opinion is, we need to go ahead and secure funding, whether we secure it through the banks or whatever we need to do.”
John Parker Wharton, a citizen member and moderator of the fire committee, agreed that continuing to seek funding from financial institutions was a good idea.
“We need to work on funding and find out because it’s going to take a little time anyway,” Wharton said, and Simms agreed.
At the fiscal court meeting, it was announced that Washington County Attorney Hamilton Simms will rewrite the bylaws for the fire protection group.
“The bylaws they have now are very important for the future,” attorney Simms said. “We don’t know, hopefully, that it will not have to go to a taxing district.”
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the fire department did eventually go to a taxing district.
“I’m not talking about next year or it could be 10 years,” attorney Simms said. “It’s going to keep getting more expensive, it’s going to get more difficult to get volunteers, so there needs to be a structure in place.”
Magistrate Simms said someone from the state fire commission will be at the next fire committee meeting to discuss how to move forward with satellite stations.
“I think we’re all at kind of a little bit of a loss as far as what we need to be doing on that,” he said.
“Not only satellite options but anything that could be done to reduce insurance rates,” attorney Simms added. “Whether it’s satellite stations or equipment.”
Magistrate Simms added that the fire department has also scaled back the building plans.
“I think it’s about half of what they were talking about,” he said.
“Are they talking about $500,000?” magistrate Billy Riney asked.
Magistrate Simms said the figure was actually around $600,000.
“They cut out a lot of the other stuff,” he said. “They had a geothermal heating system planned. I think they’re going to bid that both ways now, with gas and geothermal.”

Building a fire station
As for the plans for a new fire station, Springfield Fire Chief Jim Logsdon said in a recent city council meeting that they will be scaled back from the original plans.
“As far as our building, we’re trying to get back on track with it,” Logsdon said. “We’re working on financing right now. I talked with the architect (Monday), and we’re hoping to rebid it within the next month, month-and-a-half tops, and go from there.”
A major reduction in the proposal is in the plans.
“We’re hoping to get our money down considerable from where we started out as far as the other building goes,” Logsdon said. “We have downsized in our office, a lot.”
Logsdon said the new proposal will include six bays, similar to the current fire station. One bay will be strictly an office area.
“I think we had three offices in the other one,” he said. “Hopefully that will bring our price down enough that we can work with it. The mayor knows and some of the other council members know that we’re looking to work with the city on this and hope we can come up with some kind of figure we can live with.”
Logsdon said the site will remain in the same place, which is along West Main Street near Central Automotive.
The chief also mentioned in his report that the fire department has 21 firefighters, and he said the department is in the process of interviewing more to add to the crew.
He said in 2010 the department went on 47 runs for an average of about four a month. So far in 2011, the department has gone on only three runs.
The next meeting of the fire committee is scheduled for Thursday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. at Springfield City Hall.