Upshur County Commissioners Court on Friday declined to act on a request by the county Emergency Services District (ESD) to take over funding the dispatching of 911 fire calls.
No member of the court chose to make any type of motion concerning the proposal after court members discussed it with Gaston (Bubba) DeBerry, a member of the ESD’s board.
DeBerry had recently asked the court to have the Sheriff’s Office take over the dispatching duties from paid members of the Gilmer Fire Dept.
The ESD pays the City of Gilmer $29,400 per fiscal year to dispatch all 911 fire calls in the county, but DeBerry told commissioners Friday the district can’t continue paying for the service without cutting aid to the county’s rural fire departments.
Because of a drop in property valuations, the district faces a $47,000 budget shortfall, DeBerry said. Thus, to continue funding dispatching, the ESD would have to reduce each rural fire department’s annual $30,300 allotment by $2,450, he said.
At one point in the discussion, County Judge Dean Fowler said he had been advised that the county had no “legal obligation to provide dispatching.” DeBerry said the ESD doesn’t either, and asked who is responsible for it.
He said the district has funded dispatching until Nov. 1, and is hoping someone will assist it. He said the county could either enter into an agreement with the City of Gilmer to continue the dispatching, or that the county needed to find out who is responsible for it.
Fowler said the county would be subsidizing rural fire departments by $2,450 each by entering into such an agreement. And Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden said, “I don’t see where we can find the excess money.”
Crittenden cited budget restraints the court had asked of county departments, and said the ESD could possibly come back to the court next year (when he will no longer be in office).
“It’s hard to sit here and say no,” Crittenden said. “(We) just don’t have the money.”
Fowler said the county’s proposed budget (which the court later approved Friday by a 3-2 vote) had about $45,000 extra, and that the county’s taking over dispatching would cost $29,000.
Former County Clerk Peggy LaGrone told the court “You can’t replace a house for $29,000” if it burns.
County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Miles Jr. said the court should have no “second thought” about fire protection, and that rural residents shouldn’t be treated as “second-class citizens.”
Said Pct. 3 Comm. Lloyd Crabtree, “I don’t know that I have enough information to make a decision.” However, Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer asked why the court should give the EDS money when voters in the district rejected its proposed tax increase earlier this year.
“I’m inclined to agree,” said Crittenden, noting the lopsided margin by which the proposed tax hike failed.
Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner said he didn’t “want to come across as not supporting volunteer firemen,” but “under the (county’s) current situation, I don’t see how we can afford it.”
Spencer suggested that persons attending fund-raisers for fire departments donate more money.
Replied DeBerry, “I wish it was that simple.”