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County OKs $678,000 budget for fire department

By By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
The Madison County Commission has approved a $678,000 per-year budget for all 17 volunteer fire departments.
The budget also includes a five-year cap per department so that new fire trucks can be purchased and distributed throughout the county. The commission's approval means the Monrovia Volunteer Fire Department will have to operate on $72,000 for the next five years – an expectation that members of the department say will be difficult.
Construction of Monrovia's second fire station on Sam Thomas Road will now resume with a promise of $28,000 coming from Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie's budget to complete the project. Construction of the second station came to a halt until a final budget was approved. The $28,000 will be split in half and distributed this year and next year. According to MVFD officials, the five-year cap though could mean a reduction of services in Monrovia's heavily populated district.
Madison County Fire Marshal Don Hackney presented the $678,000 budget for all 17 volunteer fire departments on July 22. The $72,000 budget for MVFD is $21,000 less than what officials with the department said it cost them to operate in 2001-2002. However, Hackney said the additional $21,000 was a "one-time" deal so that the department could get an ISO rating. Hackney said it was not intended for the MVFD to get that additional money this year.
* (The Insurance Service Office rates every fire department on training and equipment. The ratings help determine what people pay for homeowner's insurance. ISO ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best. Monrovia's rating at the present time is 7/9)
Officials with MVFD said they were never made aware of the fact that the additional $21,000 was for one time. Hackney said that is not true.
"My budget for the MVFD is $1,000 more than the 2001-2002 budget of $71,000, and it is adequate for the department to work with."
Hackney said putting a cap on all the budgets throughout the county would enable him to purchase new fire trucks that would be dispersed throughout the county. He said a 20-year loan would be taken out with plans to pay it off in 15 years. Hackney said new trucks could be purchased for each department by using a portion of the department's revenue for the next 15 years to pay off a $2.5 million loan.
Shawn Terry, spokesperson for the MVFD, said it would be impossible for the department to operate on only $72,000 per year for the next five years based on the current growth of the area – which at the present time has more than 6,127 residential structures in its district.
Madison County District 4 Commissioner Dale Strong, whose district the MVFD is located in, said back in 1978, residents of Madison County voted in favor of a $3-mill self imposed tax for county volunteer fire departments based on population density. Since then, the Monrovia area has become the fastest growing section in the county. Strong said Hackney's proposal is not financially sound and recommended that an inventory be done on each department to determine its needs and to purchase at least three new fire trucks each year rather than 16 all at once. He said by doing that, no money would have to be borrowed.
Strong said operating costs go up and as the Monrovia area continues to grow, operating costs will rise. He said putting a cap on the budget would significantly hurt the department. He noted that Monrovia is not in need of a new fire truck at this time – rather a less expensive rescue truck.
Terry said Monrovia residents served by the department contribute more than $152,000 of the $3-mill property tax – which has raised more than $716,000 this year. He said the MVFD had proposed that 70 percent of what Monrovia residents contribute toward the tax should stay in the Monrovia area with the remaining 30 percent dispersed throughout the county. Terry said the city of New Hope, which under Hackney's new budget is to receive more than $24,000, does not contribute anything toward the $3-mill property tax, but $2,100 is brought in from residents of Madison County who are served by the city of New Hope.
"When the tax revenues are distributed, Monrovia doesn't get its fair share of what it contributes toward the tax," Strong said.
"The Monrovia Volunteer Fire Department will take the deepest cut in its budget if this proposal is approved by the county commission," Terry said. "Hackney said other departments that bring in less money toward the $3-mill property tax deserve more."
I want adequate fire protection for all of the unincorporated and rural sections of Madison County," Hackney said. "For smaller departments, it's the only way they'll get new fire trucks."
Terry said the MVFD is the one of the largest departments of the 17 countywide departments with more than 857 calls answered in 2002. The department also serves as a back up to the Harvest area, the city of Triana and portions of the city of Madison south of U.S. Highway 72 and west of Slaughter Road.
"The MVFD does disagree with the fire marshal's budget to purchase 16 new fire engines. We have asked the county commission to evaluate what it will do to public safety in the growth areas of Madison County," Terry said. "We fear that a hasty decision to rubber stamp an approval for this proposal without investigating the mathematics will have an adverse affect on the heavily populated growth areas of Madison County."
Terry said a budget freeze at a reduced figure for a period of five years would adversely affect the ability to meet the rising demand for fire and emergency protection of Monrovia and other departments' with an expanding population. He said the cost of this proposal does not generate a benefit of equal value to the taxpayers of Madison County.

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