Volunteers say if Council doesn't respond by
"I don't think anyone knew, or believed, the ordinance used to govern the fire tax board as written, gave the same control to two entities," said
The volunteer department began 50 years ago. At that time, and with help since from a county rural fire board, an agreement put the department in charge of local fire service. The department spearheaded a special fire tax district passed by voters in 2009 as the cost of fire service outpaced community donations. That tax district is made up of a five-member tax board to oversee spending.
The department and tax board largely worked in unison until earlier this year, when the tax board voted to hire a paid fire chief. The board says the growing area needs a stable, professional fire protection leader. There area a handful of paid positions added since the special tax district began.
Volunteers argue they have a chief, elected by membership. While they see a need for more paid staff in the future, including a chief, they say tax dollars are better spent elsewhere now.
The paid chief position was posted mid-September. The tax cost is about
Johnston said meetings were held with volunteers, tax board members, county staff and elected officials to resolve the fire chief dispute.
"There has been and continues to be conflict between the (tax) board and volunteers," he said.
Johnston said if Council chooses not to delay the ongoing hiring process it will indicate to the department operational control for fire service lies with the tax board, "thus relieving us of our responsibilities to do so."
He also asks for amendment to the ordinance setting up the fire tax board to clarify the roles of the board and volunteer department.
"They do it for reasons most of us don't understand," she said. "You'll most likely get a great deal of satisfaction, and hopefully support from your community -- but no paycheck."
Love is concerned volunteers will go elsewhere to serve if they feel control slipping away from the department.
"The cost of hiring firefighters in this case has not been accounted for," Love said.
"I think they serve a useful purpose," Meyer-Cuno said of the tax board. "I just think they have this decision flat wrong."
"As a taxpayer I'm concerned this is going to cost us in the long run," he said. "As a citizen, I'm feeling their pain that they're actually having something forced on them."
Yet there are two sides to the issue, said Dist. 2 Councilman
"We put them there to make the hard decisions, especially in crunch times when there's times to make those hard decisions," he said.
Henderson stopped short of advocating for or against a paid chief, but said the tax board should be authorized to make that type of decision. He also hinted at volunteers who may like the idea of a paid chief but are unwilling to say so publicly.
"There's folks on both sides of this issue that want a paid chief," Henderson said. "Some folks don't want it to be known, for being concerned for their peers."
The tax board hasn't suggested the move to a paid chief is an indictment on current volunteer service. Blackwell said volunteers are an important and needed part of local fire service. Her board also has to consider the four paid firefighters, firehouse and apparatus it paid for and has responsibility for since the tax district began. A paid chief would oversee fire protection not only for a growing area, but also a growing tax base and list of county assets.
Local fire protection now has a 4 ISO rating, and insurance services score based on how well a department serves its area. That figure is on par with or better than many similar area volunteer units. The department serves 62 square miles, and assists neighboring departments in
"Our volunteers give of themselves both in time and money to continue to improve ourselves and our department to serve our community," Johnston said. "The volunteers risk their lives for others at no pay, and only because of their desire to give back to the community."
Henderson praised volunteers repeatedly in the past, from firefighters to emergency responders who serve
"The folks on this tax board are doing exactly what we asked them to do," Henderson said. "I trust their judgment."
If a new paid chief is selected, the role will be effective
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