Three of the five members of West Bryan County Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors handed in handwritten resignations after meeting with the fire department and citizens Tuesday night.
What sparked the action was an ongoing debate as to whether the department should ask for membership dues as well as collecting the sales tax for all fire departments that was passed by voters in 2012.
After the directors’ meeting had been adjourned, they agreed to hear from citizens and members of the fire department on the issue.
Board members said they saw no problem asking for a mere $40 a year from residents within the department’s coverage area to help the fire department.
“This fire department can’t run without money, can it?” asked Chair of the Board Jerry Moser. Board members also said the tax funds were about half of what they were told they would receive.
Board members said the last time dues were collected, the amount was near $55,000. They said they receive between $4,000 and $4,500 each month with the tax, averaging slightly less than the dues.
Firefighters said they feel the tax money is a more steady form of funding and they do not want to lose this funding because of the actions of the board.
While there is no rule prohibiting the department from collecting both forms of income, firefighters said the fire chief’s association can vote their department out of the recipients for the tax money if they feel the department is wrongfully collecting other dues.
Members Linda Henderson and Jolene Reid said they realized that the dues cannot be enforced and it would be more of a donation.
“We tried asking for donations last year,” said Henderson. She said the department only received $6,000.
She said they are not trying to deceive people by asking for dues however, and had planned to explain in the collection letter that it is not mandatory.
They also said that no person would be denied service for not paying. Henderson and Reid both resigned after stating that the fire department seems to think they do not need a board.
Henderson said Fire Chief Brandon Hall frequently bypasses the board and does not consult with them before going to other entities such as the county commissioners and the fire chiefs association for purchases.
Butch Boucher said he was there as a concerned citizen. He addressed the board and told them, “It’s one or the other.”
He said the citizens were told they would not have to pay dues when the tax was passed and several citizens are upset that the board wants to collect them again.
Firefighter Chris Northcott said the the fire department would not support asking for dues and encouraged citizens not to pay if they didn’t want to.
“They [citizens] do their part by buying within Bryan County,” said firefighter Brent Hall.
Fire Chief Hall said it’s not that the fire department doesn’t need the money because there are several items needed by the department, but it is a moral dilemma.
He said they don’t want the citizens to feel that the department is “double dipping.” During the meeting Tuesday, more than $11,000 worth of equipment was agreed upon to purchase within the coming months which still did not fully meet the department’s needs.
Taking other bills into consideration, this amount would also be difficult to cover with the fire tax funds. Chief Hall said the need is due to the negligence of past fire chiefs who did not pay bills as they should have.
He said he is having to catch up on bills not paid but felt that with time the tax money would be enough to sustain the department.
Hall said there is still much the department needs and he would appreciate any donations the citizens can spare but he does not want citizens to feel they have to give.
Firefighters expressed that they will easily replace the resigned board members and those members would never be allowed back on the board.
They said they have learned that two board members can be non-officer firefighters and plan to have two on the board from now on to represent the firefighters.
Board members who handed in resignations are chairman Jerry Moser, secretary Linda Henderson and Joleine Reid. Remaining in the board are treasurer Melissa Cathey and Stacy Hallmark.
The three resignations are being presented to the county commissioners today making the documents official resignations.
- Jessica Breger can be reached at (580) 924-4388 ext. 116 or on Twitter @jbreger_news