Don’t cut funding for rural departments

By Elaine Fogarty | Published Saturday, April 27, 2019

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The limited information in “Hot topic: Fire chief wants county to change department funding formula” in the April 24 edition, although factual, is not a true representation of the entire picture. It is a prime example of presenting only a portion of all the facts to serve an agenda.

Although each of the 17 county fire departments receives the same amount of annual funding from the county, many county fire departments are in rural areas. They do not receive funding from cities or businesses within a city like Decatur. Calculation of city funding was missing from the “per-call” formula Chief Mike Richardson provided.

Also missing from the calculation is the definition of a call. For some departments, a report of a controlled burn is considered a call. For other departments, only an event requiring dispatch of firefighters is considered a call. It’s easy to see why some departments may have a lot more calls than others when there is no consistent definition.

As Chief Richardson pointed out, the amount the county provides annually to each department is ” the minimum to keep the doors open, because they have to pay for taking care of the trucks, taking care of the building, insurance and things like that.” That is just the basics. Many, if not most, of these volunteer fire departments also hold fundraisers to pay for replacement and maintenance of equipment and training of their unpaid volunteers. They are running on shoe-string budgets and with aged/used trucks that are typically 10 to 15 years old. The article gives the impression these departments are receiving money with little justification.

What Chief Richardson is proposing will take away funds from departments that struggle already. Most receive no city funding. They rely on volunteers who will spend the time to train and be available to fight fires for no pay. They rely on donations and fundraisers. Most importantly from a financial perspective, they rely on what the county provides just to keep the doors open.

Chief Richardson worries about homes going up outside of Decatur city limits that his department must protect with paid firefighters and an annual budget that includes funds from county and city. I worry about homes in rural areas having no protection because volunteer fire departments may have to close their doors if the major source of funding, stipends received from the county, is cut.

Elaine Fogarty

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