published Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Marion County restores partial funding to volunteer firefighters

By Ryan Lewis/Correspondent

JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County leaders have extended an olive branch to rural volunteer fire departments.

In August, the Marion County Commission completely cut the $193,000 it had been giving to the fire departments from the budget.

Last week, the board unanimously voted to reinstate about $48,000 of the funds.

"At this time, we feel that we can offer the volunteer fire departments 25 percent of what they had previously gotten," Commission Chairman Les Price said.

There are 13 volunteer county fire departments in Marion, so if the money is divided evenly, each will receive about $3,700. The towns of Jasper, Kimball, South Pittsburg and Whitwell each have city-funded volunteer fire departments, according to officials.

Twenty-five percent of the funds the county previously gave to the rescue squad and to the Emergency Management Association also will be reinstated, Price said.

Officials said the rural volunteer fire departments have already expressed that they are in deep financial trouble in just the first month of the new fiscal year without county funding.

"They may have to give us a little time to collect some money before we can give them the check," Price said.

"It's going to help some, but it won't help a lot," said Sequatchie Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeffrey Hundley, whose department has idled three of its six firetrucks because it can't afford the insurance coverage.

"We've cut the insurance back to try to penny-pinch," Hundley said.

Volunteer firefighters will have to hit the streets for donations, he said.

"We're fixing to start getting out here going door to door," he said. "We hate to, but we don't have much choice."

  • photo
    Marion County Mayor John Graham stands in front of the Marion County Courthouse.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Marion County Mayor John Graham said that, even though the county found some money to give volunteer fire departments, Marion's fund balance is still "critical."

"We have passed a new budget, but we have not collected any new revenue," he said. "So, we're still really, really tight with money. I think that's why our finance committee decided to do a portion [of the money] right now."

Graham said the fund balance should recover "somewhat" by January and the board may be able to increase what they give to the fire departments then.

"As the year goes on and we start collecting taxes, I'm assuming [the board] is open to revisiting this depending on how our fund balance is going," he said.

Price said the county has "a couple of things cooking" that could generate some additional revenue, and if that happened, the board would consider "going further."

The board is encouraging the fire departments to band together and get their insurance as a group in an effort to reduce the premiums, officials said.

"It would save every fire department and the county some money," Price said.

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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