Commission hears fire departments#039; concerns

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2005

A problem that's been building for months may soon come to a head.

Representatives of the area's volunteer fire departments attended Monday night's commission meeting, expressing their need for a solution to growing concerns about the county's emergency service, especially in Highland Home.

Lack of volunteers is dooming Highland Home's operations, said Fire Chief Richard Jordan. He said the fire department could no longer guarantee around the clock service to those people located in the northernmost part of the county.

"Only a few people are dedicated enough to provide this valuable service," said Jordan. "One which the county cannot afford to be without."

Jordan offered three suggestions to the commission: the county could hire a private service to provide emergency transport, assist Brantley and Highland Home in staffing its fire stations Monday through Friday, or implement a county-wide fire and rescue service.

"That would take much battling, politically," said Jordan of the latter argument. "I feel that would be the better solution if it could be achieved."

A private service would also require a minimum number of emergency calls per day in order to operate a transport within Crenshaw County. To assist in staffing either Highland Home or Brantley, Jordan said the county would be looking at a minimum of $18,000 for a driver and $21,000 for a basic EMT per year, based on a 40-hour workweek plus benefits.

Whichever way the commission decides, something must be done quick, said Jordan. Highland Home's license to operate transports is up for renewal in October.

"I hate to put it blunt, but this is going to be your problem eventually," Jordan told the commission. "We just wanted to come and warn you that it's coming and hopefully do something to fix it."

The commission assured Jordan and the VFD representatives that their concerns would be given priority.

Revenue Commissioner Sherry McSwean also attended the meeting and presented the commission with statistics exhibiting the amount of money that could be generated from a prorated county budget. Basically, a percentage of taxes collected by the county for the state, municipalities inside the county, the school system, etc., would be deducted and included in the county's general fund before those entities would receive the money from taxes.

Commissioner Charlie Sankey motioned that the proposed bill to prorate the county budget be drawn up by Probate Judge Jim Perdue for review by the commission. Commissioner Ronnie Hudson seconded.

The commission will review that bill as well as a tabled bill to charge a $5 issuance fee on all automobile tags at its next meeting. $1 of each fee would go to the volunteer fire departments something Perdue said that 'wasn't received well' at a recent meeting of the county's volunteer fire departments.

"The question that was asked of us was if the tag fee was put to vote with $1 going to the fire departments, would we help promote it?" said Tommy Petrey, a member of the Northeast Crenshaw County Volunteer Fire Department at the meeting. "The overall answer was no."

However, Perdue stated that the majority of fire departments would support a tag fee with all the money going for county employees' payraises.

Petrey agreed.

"The feeling is that yes, we could use the money, but we're not hurting as bad as the county workers are," said Petrey.