Joe’s previous speech to the Hamilton County Development Authority addressed the High Water and Sewer Rate which has caused many citizens who because of the inability to pay bills on a tight budget to shut off their water. Some are forced to steal water from others in order to survive.
The Town advised in an April meeting that the high sewer rate allowed for the necessary seed money required in the General revenue account in order to facilitate the collateral on a $3 Million revolving loan from the State.
Joe asked that the HCDA not provide the Grant if it supports the political structure over the citizens’ needs. “Either deny the grant to the Town of White Springs or approve the $250,000 grant on the basis that the Town lowers its sewer and water rate for the Citizens of White Springs”, Joe stated. As stated this high rate has affected our local businesses and we will never be able to have future businesses start with the high cost of the White Springs Economy.
There is, however, another problem far more pressing. And that is the White Springs Fire Department. We now have four (4) certified firefighters and two (2) in class. They will be certified in August.
The Fire Department was ignored by the Town after former manager Townsend fired Chief Peeler. The town spent some $7,000 in legal fees so they would not have to give Peeler a public meeting. The $10,000 in volunteer money went to the Town because the town ran out of money. Since that time there has been very little the Town has done to help the Fire Department until the ISO intervened.
Although the majority of the ISO requirements have been met by the extension deadline of June 14, 2014, we have not yet received approval by the ISO. Unlike other fire departments we do not have a central location for all of our fire equipment and in which the building is of masonry non-combustible material. If our ISO classification changes from a 7-8 to a class 9 or 10, the Citizens who insure their homes will have another dilemma. Some insurers will cancel or non-renew the insurance or some insurers may increase their insurance premiums dependent upon the home valuation by $100-$200 a month. This means more citizens may not afford insurance causing a further dilemma.
Our police department is fully funded (with the Sheriff’s department responding approximately 73% of the time per a citizen’s investigation) but our Fire Department is based upon the assistance of volunteers with mainly Andrew Greene, also an EMT, handling the first responder calls and the majority of Chief Stith’s operations when he is out of town.
Our Town approved volunteer pay of only $10 per call for volunteers up to $50 a month. That means, possibly if the firemen have more than five calls, and do not receive $10 per call, they may not show up. We need more volunteers but we need a strong professional Fire Chief and an assistant Fire Chief with respective possible salaries of $35,000 and $25,000 per year.
If we need a grant for anything it would be to create jobs in White Springs and Southern Hamilton County. With a Professional Fire Department, more jobs could be created and at some point the Fire Department could sustain itself as long as the Town could not remove such money as is allocated to the White Springs Fire Department to sustain its professional capacity and to serve the citizens. In time, if a grant was provided to assist in the employment of a professional fire department whether by assisting in job creation, job training or other areas such as a building (like conversion of the old Dollar General store so all fire trucks could be in one place. Building listed for $380,000 but maybe could be secured for $350,000 for a fire department and utilize a loan as well for improvements).
The U.S. Fire Administration through FEMA published Funding Alternatives for Emergency Medical and Fire Service, as follows: “Local Revenue and Funding Alternatives:’ ‘The funding alternatives available at the local level vary widely, though the ability of the EMS administrator or fire chief to influence changes in these sources will vary considerably based on local preferences and State and local laws. Many enterprising departments have found new revenue streams through the sale of services.”
We believe that after a three year period, the professional fire department should have sufficient funding to be a good source of revenue, a means of employing professionals and perhaps obtaining an ambulatory service which would help the Town of White Springs as well as job opportunities for those in Southern Hamilton County. “ The discussion of local revenue sources includes
- Taxes:These include taxes on real property, personal income, and sales transactions. Other taxes include real estate-transfer taxes and utility-user taxes. New taxes can go into a city’s general fund to be divided up by elected officials or can be earmarked specifically for EMS and fire services.”
In the Town of White Springs there are approximately 200 vacant unimproved lots. Current taxes are $10.00 or less for the absent landowners’. It is suggested that the town charge a flat $125.00 per lot, including vacant lots. Based upon 477 total lots in White Springs, $59,625.00 in additional revenue could be produced to fund the Fire Department in the General Fund. This charge may force absent landowners’ to sell their properties to someone who will improve the land and lots, thereby creating additional jobs.
A grant for a professional fire department has much more of a chance of creating additional jobs than the rehabilitation of existing sewer pipes in certain sections of town. I am not saying the rehabilitation of those pipes are not needed because it is necessary, but if the position of the HCDA is to create Jobs, the sewer pipe project will only create temporary jobs. Whereas the Professional Fire Department project could provide major services to the community and outlying areas of Southern Hamilton County as well as increasing revenues for the Town of White Springs. Currently our town receives $17,000 from Hamilton County for our services plus $150 for each out of town call.
- “Development Impact and User Fees: These fees are charged to ensure that those benefitting from an activity pay their fair share of the costs related to that activity.
- Fines, Forfeitures, and Citations:Some jurisdictions now issue citations to those who engage in high-risk activities that may later require a rescue. Other areas dedicate a portion of fines to fund EMS and fire services.
- Enterprise Funds and Utility Rates:Local governments may establish an enterprise fund for city operated services. Ambulance service, for example, may be run like a municipal business where it is expected to earn revenue to support its operations.
- Sale of Assets and Services: Some EMS and fire agencies sell used equipment or services to produce revenue.
- Benefit Assessments: Special districts may be established for the purpose of supporting EMS and fire services. These districts can assess a benefit assessment similar to a property tax but based on the “benefit” received by each property. These charges are a way to circumvent property-tax limitations and can also improve the equity of charges for EMS.
- Borrowing:Cities and towns have a number of options for borrowing revenue needed to purchase capital equipment and facilities including General Obligation bonds and Certificates of Participation. Not-for-profit organizations may have access to low-cost 501(c)(3) revenue bond financing or may take out a traditional bank loan.”
There are also creative ways fire chiefs and EMS administrators have raised revenue for their agency such as creating private ambulance company contracts to reimburse for fire-based EMS, billing for department-operated ambulance services, offering subscription programs, providing inter-facility transport, creating paramedic intercept agreements with surrounding communities, and piloting innovating healthcare programs. The section concludes with time-tested cost-saving strategies and miscellaneous fundraising
Currently our Police Department Budget is $205,000 with revenue of approximately $2500. A professional Fire Department could more than sustain itself and add revenues to the Town. And if a grant is provided it should be to have a STRONG PROFESSIONAL FIRE DEPARTMENT in Southern Hamilton County servicing the needs of all of the citizens in the area. Our fire fighters, who volunteer their time to train, respond and console our citizens in times of need, are our true heroes and our citizens need to be assured there is someone who may protect their properties and their lives in the event of a fire or medical emergency.
We hope the HCDA will consider a grant for funding our Firefighters whether in the way of creating stable jobs, a fire department building or ambulatory service or other means. A professional fire department and rescue squad could more than support itself in the long run, provide better services to the community and more revenue to the Town of White Springs.
Andrew Greene is our White Springs hero who has provided first responder and fire services to the community. Although he manages the Wastewater Treatment Facility, both of which are very important positions, Greene should be allowed to take the time necessary to handle his fireman’s duties and his duties at the Wastewater Treatment facility.
Our former manager worked at the treatment facility for only four hours a day. Greene needs the flexibility to handle both or one of his choosing and the appropriate money for his work in the community which should not be limited to $80 a month; I do not believe the volunteers should be limited to $50 a month to assure full participation to help Greene. Currently Greene flushes water pipes, which usually is a function of a Fire Department. Since we are not firefighters nor do I have any experience of that profession….if anyone has suggestions or comments we would love to hear them.
PS. “Professional” in the context used means a “Paid” Professional other than a non-paid professional.