A handful of volunteer firefighters, led by Chief John Neal, attended the Paradise City Council Thursday to address “unsolicited quotations” that could “damage” their public reputation in a July 28 Messenger article.
At a budget workshop July 24, the council had voted to remove a $5,000 donation to the department.
“Please be reminded that our presence this evening is to address the civic picture that has been painted, not the loss of your financial support,” Neal said. “We understand you have a budget to balance … We cannot, however, afford or passively allow uninformed and unsolicited quotations to damage our public reputation and subsequent funding … Nearly half of Paradise Volunteer Fire Department annual funding is from donations and fundraiser profits.
“We have great concern that your statements, when interpreted by your constituents, will have an adverse effect on our overall income.”
Neal explained the “greatly appreciated” allotments from county and local government. However, the department also heavily relies on private donations from community members, including profits from two annual fundraisers that require “months of preparation and uncountable man hours that not one member of this department benefits (from) personally.”
“In relation to the Paradise fire district, the county stipend per contract provides $51,600 annually for the protection of approximately 4,000 residents,” he said. “This breaks down to $12.90 per resident.
“Applying the same per-resident value with the city of Paradise with the 2010 U.S. Census population of 441, this would equal $5,688.90. In 2011, the city donated $5,000 and reimbursed the fire department $7,665.40 for our apparatus and building insurance.”
Collectively, Neal contended, this amount is not any more than what similar departments in the area receive.
“Within Wise County, there are few other departments that are within an incorporated city of similar population, call volume and financial structure,” Neal said. “One matching city, who was asked to remain unnamed, provides $400 a month donation, pays the department’s utilities, auto insurance, workers comp insurance and fuel. Based on our 2011 financial statements, that would total $26,973.29.”
Neal also added that everything the department received goes back to the community.
“Last month alone, this fire department volunteered 209.25 man hours on 25 individual calls for service. Another 28 man hours was spent training,” Neal said. “Everything that we do, every piece of equipment that we operate and every one of the man hours that we spend away from our lives, our families and our jobs is for the benefit of someone else.”
After the address, a motion to send out letters seeking donations on behalf of the department fell 2-3 with Councilmen Roy Steel and Bob Gayan voting in favor, and Michael Robertson, Chris Harris and Bill Schneck opposing.
Instead, a motion to approve reimbursing the department’s insurance and donating $5,000 passed 3-2 with Robertson, Harris and Schneck in favor, and Steel and Gayan against.
“I can’t reiterate enough, the fire department is grateful for any and all help that we can receive,” Neal said. “Thank you.”