Marion County revisits fire funding

Marion County revisits fire funding

March 6th, 2013 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

Sweetens Cove Volunteer Fire Department Photo by Ryan Lewis

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JASPER, Tenn. - When Marion County faced a budget crunch in 2011, rural volunteer fire departments lost all of the approximately $193,000 they received annually to operate.

Since then, the Marion County Commission has restored 75 percent of that funding.

The board's Finance Committee met recently to discuss returning funding to its 2010 level.

After reviewing all the financial information from the departments, the committee did not recommend the $46,000 increase now.

"At this time, we don't have enough information from the volunteer departments to determine that we're in a position to fund any additional amounts," Commissioner Don Adkins, chairman of the committee, said.

The committee would like to gather additional information in the form of bank statements, budgets and expenses for each of the departments through last month, he said.

Adkins said the way the county distributes the funds among the departments should be revisited.

"It has been probably 12 or 13 years since this equation was created that we're using to fund the volunteer departments on a yearly basis," he said. "It probably needs to be looked at again to be fair and equitable across these different organizations."

Adkins said some fire departments have balances of almost $100,000, and the board needs to make sure the funds are being allocated appropriately.

Officials did not specify which departments had higher fund balances.

Bobby Ambrester, a volunteer firefighter with Sweetens Cove Volunteer Fire Department, said his organization gets about $8,000 from the county annually and is not one of those with a large bank statement.

"I appreciate the 75 percent they've given us, and I hope they'll give us some more money because we desperately need it," he said.

Adkins said the board requested several years ago that all fire departments submit monthly statements that would be turned in to the county mayor's office, but his committee only had a handful to examine since June 2012.

"I'd like to see that happen so that we could get a better picture of where we're at right now," he said.

Ambrester said his department was required to present an annual report to get county funding.

Commissioner Tommy Thompson said smaller departments around the county are paying almost as much in insurance premiums as the larger departments with "better balances."

"They're having bake sales," he said. "They're having roadblocks. They're doing everything just to get fuel to get back and forth to these fires."

Sweetens Cove's insurance costs about $5,000 per year, which consumes almost 63 percent of what the county gives the department, Ambrester said.

"The rest goes to upkeep on our vehicles and equipment, heat, water and electricity," he said. "There's not a lot of wiggle room for saving up money for future projects like buying a new firetruck. That's something we really need."

Whatever the board does, Thompson said its members need to keep in mind the importance of maintaining current fire ratings across the county.

"In this review, we probably need to take a look at the whole process," he said.