County delays match for fire truck grant

Friday, January 29, 2010
Commissioner Tony White, left, makes a point during a county meeting.

There's been a delay in making nearly $8,200 available from Marshall County to pay a percentage of the cost of a pumper truck for the Belfast Fire Department if the federal government awards a grant to pay the rest of the cost of the truck.

County commissioners voted 11-7 during their monthly meeting on Monday night against taking action on a request from the rural fire department. That vote came after extensive discussion based on the concern that if commissioners did this for one department, then they might feel obliged to do it for another.

"Be careful when you open Pandora's Box," Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel said.

County Clerk Daphne Fagan reports "They tabled it," and Commissioner Rocky Bowden noted it will take at least two-thirds of the commissioners to reconsider the issue.

Belfast firefighters' request was brought to the commission by Commissioner Jimmy Stitt, chairman of the Economic and Community Development/Tourism Committee. It makes recommendations on how hotel-motel room tax revenue is spent.

"I invited them to speak with ECD/Tourism," Stitt said of the Belfast firefighters, specifying the amount needed at $8,187.

"They need a letter to show the federal grant people" to be eligible for the grant, Stitt said.

"If they don't get the money from the federal government, they can't use the money," he said.

Included as a topic for discussion on the fire truck grant was the commission's vote last year to accept a pay cut so that all the volunteer fire departments would continue to receive $4,500 from the county if the departments raised $4,500 from their neighbors.

That point was made by Commissioner Mary Ann Neill and Commission Chairman Billy Spivey turned to the county's director of emergency management, Bob Hopkins.

"Five other (fire) departments got trucks and they paid for them with their own money," Hopkins replied.

Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the budget committee, noted the commissioners' 30 percent pay cut was to help rural fire departments with their operating budgets.

As for the equity issue, Stitt said any department could apply for the federal grant sought by the Belfast volunteers.

Hopkins confirmed the money sought by Belfast would be from a "nationwide grant," and Spivey noted there is a deadline for the county to be ready and keep Belfast eligible.

Commissioner Seth Warf argued for keeping the money available for Belfast.

"If they don't get the grant, we keep the money," Warf said.

Bowden advocated adoption of the resolution to reserve money.

"If $8,100 set aside is going to make the difference in the county getting a $130,000 fire truck, then I could not, in good conscience, vote against it," Bowden said.

Neill noted more information had been sought when the Budget Committee took no action on the request. King said he'd like to have seen the additional information, which would include the fire department's written request for the money.

During the meeting, Stitt examined a thick three-ring binder that contains applications from non-profit and charitable organizations that are requesting funds from the County.

Lack of a document and additional information apparently led to a motion by Commissioner Tony White to table the decision. Neill seconded the motion.

These grant applications are reviewed in Washington, D.C.

Commissioner Scottie Poarch said, "I live in Belfast and $8,000 is not much for a fire truck."

White said it's a "one time thing," prompting Wentzel's remark about the Greek mythological figure Pandora.

Voting to table discussion were Commissioners E.W. Hill, Tony Williams, King, Jimmy Wolaver, Spivey, Don Ledford, White, Wentzel, McKnight, Dean Delk and Neill.

Voting no were Commissioners Richard Medley, Phil Willis, Reynell Peacock Smith, Warf, Stitt, Poarch and Bowden.