Just when the fire appeared to have died down, the flames could now be fanned again.
The Washington County Fire Protection Association is again looking at a deadline to stop service to Washington Countians, despite the Washington County Fiscal Court meeting the fire protection group’s request to formally give it support.
John Goatley, vice president of the WCFPA, indicated at a Feb. 10 fire committee meeting that if given the fiscal court’s support of the $45 fire fee, he saw no reason the fire protection group wouldn’t do away with the 90-day deadline, which was issued Dec. 20.
“There’s no talk of taking the funding away on this $45,” said magistrate Greg Simms, who also serves on the fire committee. “That commitment is there, and I think the fire department needs to make a commitment to take this 90-day thing off the table, too.”
Simms made that comment at the Feb. 10 meeting, and Goatley answered that with the fiscal court’s support of the fire department, he saw no issue with the 90-day deadline. He added that the fire protection association needed the support of the court to secure financing for a new fire station being planned.
“If I’m going to the bank, and I don’t have anything that says you guys (fiscal court) are supporting, not committing to it, but supporting the fire department at this time, then... as long as we can move forward on some of this stuff, I don’t think the 90 days is going to be an issue,” Goatley said.
Following that meeting, the fiscal court met on Monday, just four days later, and voted unanimously to provide support for the $45 fee to provide funding to the fire department. The fire department was scheduled to meet later that evening and expected to announce it would rescind the 90-day deadline. Following that meeting, Goatley said there was no decision reached because two key members of the WCFPA, president Jim Logsdon and secretary/treasurer Forrest Carrico, were out of town and did not attend the meeting. He said another meeting would take place to vote on the elimination of the 90-day deadline.
That meeting occurred Monday, Feb. 21, but the results were not as expected. Despite the county giving its support of the fire protection association, the group voted to not extend its deadline, according to Goatley.
“Basically, I think the assumption is that we have not proceeded enough with the fire department requirements to remove the deadline,” Goatley said in a telephone interview Friday. “They (fiscal court) agreed to do the $45 fee back, but we had that before we started, and they did agree to support the fee, but I had requested, if you remember, to have a letter to that effect. They said they would put it in the meeting minutes, but not provide a letter to that effect.”
Goatley said that would probably still be OK, but he added that having the statement made in the minutes of the meeting would not be like going to the bank with a letter saying the court supports the $45 fee.
“We’ll try to take that to the bank and see if it works,” Goatley said of the support offered in the court’s minutes.
Washington County Judge-Executive John Settles said Monday that the court did vote to support the fire protection group, but he said no discussion was held and no decision was made to not put the statement in a letter.
“I’ve not officially been told that they are not backing off the deadline, so officially, it’s going to be hard to respond to that. If that is the case, I would certainly be disappointed, and I would like to know why. I feel like we thought that was the point that was holding it up,” Settles said. “We did take action in court to support that, and as far as it depends on us, we would honor the $45 subscription fee. I don’t know if there was other action that they intended or thought we were going to take. If there is, I certainly would like to know what it is and see if it is something that we could accomplish. Not to say we would do it automatically, but I’d like to be able to consider it, but as of now, I have no official word from anybody at the fire department.”
As for having a letter of support, Settles said he understood that the vote by the court provided that written support.
“I think that question was asked that day in court, and we took a vote so it would be on the official record,” he explained. “I guess in our minds, it was in writing because it is a matter of official court record. If it’s something other than that, I wasn’t aware of it.”
Settles added that this vote to continue the support of the fire protection group with the $45 fee was more supportive than when it was originally put in place nearly seven years ago. This time the court voted unanimously to support it. Originally, the fee passed by a vote of 4-2.
Goatley said at this point, the issue will require more discussion at the next fire committee meeting, which is scheduled for March 10. When asked if there is still a possibility of county residents being left without fire protection, he didn’t rule out that possibility.
“There is always that possibility,” Goatley said. “That isn’t to say the fire department would not extend it, but as of right now, I don’t see that happening. We’ve got 30 days, and that was my recommendation the other night. I think we need to have more than one more meeting between now and March.”
The WCFPA receives approximately $100,000 each year from the $45 membership fee. Prior to that fee being approved by the fiscal court on May 19, 2004, Settles said the group, along with the Mackville and Willisburg fire departments, received $10,000 each per year from the county’s general fund. As of Monday, Settles said he was working on the budget for fiscal year 2011-12, and he is working to find money to allocate additional funds to the fire protection association. Currently the Mackville and Willisburg fire departments receive $13,000 per year from the county. Settles said it is his plan to try to find a way to add that $13,000 to the budget and provide that annually to the Washington County Fire Protection Association, as well.
In the meantime, coverage continues from the fire protection association. The group had said it would quit Jan.1, but gave a 90-day extension, which was issued in a letter dated Dec. 20, 2010. That would mean the new deadline would be around March 20. The fire committee is slated to meet again on March 10.