The Dyer County fire committee met for the first time in six months on Thursday morning to discuss several pressing issues including: a mutual aid agreement with the city of Caruthersville, the Worker's Compensation Fund, fire-prevention education and fire department equipment. Fire Chief James Medling happily reported to the committee that Newbern did in fact receive the Community Block Development Grant from the state allowing them to purchase a new fire truck.
Commissioner John Uitendaal praised the volunteer fire department out in Newbern for its perseverance in securing the grant for their community.
"Any time you can get a $300,000 truck for $25,000, it is a big deal," said Uitendaal.
When the committee last met in May, it discussed the deteriorating condition of the department's fire trucks, many of which are more than 20 years old as well as the recurring need for a fire truck in Newbern. At the time the fire committee recommended funding the fire department an additional $50,000 to go toward the purchase of a brush truck for the Lenox community as well as funding the match portion of Newbern's grant application to the state for a new fire truck at $25,000. However, faced with a very tight budget, the county budget committee opted to fund the fire department $25,000 for the new brush truck as well as $25,000 in match, with the understanding that the match portion should not be spent if Newbern did not receive the grant.
At the meeting, Medling said that the needs of the fire department exceeded one brush truck.
"We need to make some provisions," said Medling. "I know times are tough, but the oldest truck we are running is a 1964 reserve pumper at Bogota. Our newest is a 2005 and we have everything in between with most of our trucks more than 20 years old."
Commissioner Rusty Grills asked Medling to brief the committee on the five-year plan he had once created. Medling responded that his plan included the purchase of 10 brush trucks at $50,000 a piece. The plan called for the county to take out a loan to pay for the trucks, but if they created a payment plan he believed the trucks could be paid for within 10 years. Medling stressed that when he created this plan approximately five or six years ago the pumpers were in good order and he thought by the time the brush trucks were paid off it would be time to replace the pumpers and the process would start again. However, the economy took a turn for the worse and the brush trucks were never purchased. Now both the pumpers and the brush trucks need some serious attention and in some cases replacement.
Medling says the unpredictable weather has not helped the situation, as there has been two consecutive years of drier-than-usual late summers and early falls. The drier the conditions, the easier it is for brush fires to form and spread and the more wear and tear the fire vehicles experience.
"We have a great fire department," said Commissioner Jimmy Hester. "But their equipment is falling apart. We need to get a plan in place to get the equipment better maintained."
Commissioner Steve Moore, who also serves on the budget committee, said that the budget committee had not begun discussing the 2013-2014 budget; however, he said that if the county were to approve raising property taxes by a nickel (as an example), one or two pennies of that increase could be allocated to the fire department for vehicle replacement. Each penny allocated would raise $60,000 for the fire department.
"I realize it's not a lot, but it is better than nothing," said Moore.
Mayor Richard Hill, who also serves as a member of the budget committee, agreed with Moore and acknowledged that the county has not done enough to maintain the vehicles until the need arises.
"We need to address this," said Hill. "The problem just keeps multiplying."
Commissioner David Agee, who serves as chairman of the fire committee, asked Medling to put together a list of all the fire department's vehicles along with their year and condition for the next meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 13 at 9:30 a.m. Agee said he expected it to be bad but wanted to have a list so that everyone could see what the fire department was working with. Agee also asked that Moore invite the Trimble Fire Department to speak to the committee at the December meeting. According to Agee, the group wanted to speak at Thursday's meeting but due to the lengthy agenda he postponed their request until December.
In other business, Medling informed the committee that the city of Caruthersville has sent him a mutual aid agreement to execute. According to Medling, the agreement is necessary because the state line for Tennessee and Missouri is right in the middle of the I-155 bridge. He says that sometimes cell phone calls that should go to Caruthersville come to Dyer County and vice versa. Medling told the committee that the language in the agreement was pretty standard and that county attorney Michael Gauldin had already taken a look at it.
"Basically what it says is that it's as fair for one as it is for the other to take the call," said Medling.
Medling also commented that the two communities work together all the time such as when tornadoes have struck in the area. The committee unanimously approved recommending to the full county legislative body executing the agreement on a motion by Grills and a second by Moore. The agreement will be on the agenda for approval when the county commissioners meet again in January 2013.
The committee also reviewed the on-the-job injury policy for the volunteer firefighters, which are covered under the state risk pool. Medling explained that under the state plan everyone in the state is lumped together, and although a department may have little to no claims, one might pay for the claims of other departments on the plan. Medling reported that the county would owe the state $2,043 in increased premiums by next spring. In addition, the state audits the fire department each year and this year's audit revealed that the county owes an additional $915 due to not previously counting the fire-training officer under the plan.
"I want to make you aware of it because I don't have that much money in my budget that I can get my hands on," said Medling.
Agee noted that the fire committee could not authorize the spending of the additional money but could send a recommendation to the budget committee to cover the expense.
"I think it's a foregone conclusion that we're going to do it," said Hill.
The committee approved without opposition to recommend to the budget committee that the additional expense totaling $2,958 be moved to the top of the priority list on a motion by Uitendaal and a second by Grills.
Prior to adjourning, Medling also updated the committee on the new paging system provided by the E911 board as well as some of the fire-prevention education he has been undertaking in the county schools, including the state fire marshal's annual poster contest. Medling informed the committee that the county has been represented well in those contests with a state winner each of the last three years.