Fire chiefs, budget chair talk out financial flames

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A better understanding was reached Monday night when Marshall County Fire Chiefs met with the chairman of the county's Budget Committee who re-emphasized that a big cut to firefighters' funding was an idea, not a decision.

Fire chiefs emphasized that the men and women they lead don't get paid because that's what being a volunteer means and if the contemplated cuts were made final by the county commission, then firefighters might be risking their lives more than necessary.

Berlin Fire Chief Joe Greer was selected as the chiefs' spokesman for the meeting in the Emergency Management Agency's office where County Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the Budget Committee, listened and responded to the chiefs' concerns.

Greer was asked what the chiefs' meeting accomplished. Fire Chiefs president Jimmy Flowers had suggested fire trucks be parked around the County Courthouse on the night of the next commission meeting to show what's at stake. Greer said that's probably not necessary now.

"We understand that the 38 percent cut was just put out by a committee," Greer said of the proposal delivered June 3 to the Emergency Management Agency Committee. On June 4, Commissioner Seth Warf, chairman of the EMA Committee, emphasized that the proposed reduction was only a recommendation.

It's been made clear, "that we couldn't survive with a 38 percent cut," Greer said. "We understand we have to have some cuts."

Marshall County's budget has been approximately $70 million. Overall, the county's revenue has shrunk because of the recession and spending must be curtailed.

"We're $400,000 short," King told the chiefs. "The schools pretty much know they're not going to get more. They have had 68 percent of the county budget."

Most of the money for schools is state and federal funding. The Highway Department gets fuel tax revenue for its operations. Other departments generate revenue.

Marshall County's Emergency Management Agency was budgeted at $481,861 for the 2009-10 fiscal year. Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver went to the EMA Committee meeting on June 3 and reported that the Budget Committee is recommending a reduction of $109,943, thereby proposing EMA funding at $371,658 for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"That looks to be a proposed cut of 22.83 percent," Warf said on June 5.

On Monday, King said, "That was just to see what it would generate" in available money if that cut was made.

Budget committeemen have discussed imposing department funding cuts at 4-7 percent, but there's a difference of opinion on whether all departments should be cut at the same percentage.

Funding to the Marshall County Emergency Medical Services can't be cut by even four percent, King said, explaining that it was cut last year and there is nowhere else to cut.

"It's not like we're against you," King said. "We're trying to be responsible.

"Let's try to be more responsible," he said. "If you don't need the truck that gets four miles per gallon, don't take it out" on some fire calls."

Greer replied by explaining that a recent trip to a NAPA parts store cost $303 for oil and parts and spending several thousand dollars for an insulated garage bay door will save money on utilities.

"We're trying to do things to save money, but, Mickey, we run on a shoestring budget."

Payments from insurance companies were discussed, but they're not seen as a significant or reliable source of revenue.

"If it weren't for the grants, we'd still be a bucket brigade," Greer said.

Among other matters discussed were the concept of creating a countywide fire department, which has been considered before, and drafting guidelines that define what is needed for an organization to be considered a fire department.

County commissioners meet next at 6 p.m. June 28 in the Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square.