Brown County Rural Fire Board, Fire Departments will Form Committee to Help Settle Fund Allocation Dispute
A special meeting of the Brown County Rural Fire District and the Brown County Commissioners was held on Wednesday, September 13th at 7:00 p.m. to discuss issues with fund distribution to rural fire departments.
Brown County Rural Fire District Chairman Doug Rau called the meeting to order, with Board Members Larry Rau, Jason Painter, Jeremiah Dailey and Jim DeBolt present. Also present were the Brown County Commissioners; members of the Ainsworth, Johnstown, Long Pine, Raven, Calamus and South Pine fire departments; and members of the public.
Minutes of the previous meeting, treasurer’s report and bills were read and approved.
An update was given on the committee in charge of updating the district’s standard operating guidelines (SOG). A representative from each fire department is serving on the committee. Committee member Jake Graff questioned what would happen if a firefighter didn’t sign the SOG - would they still be able to serve?
“I don’t want to deny anybody who wants to serve,” Doug said.
Although he said he didn’t see a reason why firefighters should be required to sign the SOG, he advised that the guidelines were in place to keep firefighters safe and lower liability for the departments. He said every person should thoroughly read the guidelines before becoming a member, even if they don’t sign the document.
Discussion moved on to recent disagreements about how each department within the district receives funding. Currently, the district receives funding from all residents in the county via a tax levy. Then, the money to purchase new equipment or meet other needs is distributed based on requests made to the Brown County Rural Fire Board by each department.
Doug read a statement, saying that the Brown County Rural Fire Board has authority to “purchase or lease such firefighting and rescue equipment, supplies and other real or personal property as necessary and proper to carry out the general fire protection and rescue program of the district” according to Nebraska state statute 35-508.
However, he said each department is responsible for coming to the board to present bills for fuel, equipment or other expenses, as they are not authorized to just give money to the departments.
“This board has to be within the statutes,” Doug said.
It was suggested that one of the rural fire departments would form their own district and break away from the Brown County Rural Fire District, but, stating statute 35-502, Doug said no new fire protection districts are allowed to form.
Johnstown Fire Department member Wade Buechle said his department previously requested funding for a new truck, but the board had denied their request. Buechle said the request was denied because the board stated Johnstown didn’t have enough training. Information from the minutes wasn’t available to accurately determine the cause for the denial.
Doug questioned if members of the Johnstown Fire Department had done any training, to which Buechle replied that they had. Others said if they didn’t have formal training, they had onsite experience.
Doug said he would like for firefighters to attend trainings so they know what to do in the field.
“You’re the first line of defense,” he said. “I want you to know what to look for.”
Members of the rural departments said it wouldn’t be right for the district to deny them funds just because they’re not trained.
“We don’t ask for much money, year in and year out,” Johnstown fireman Eric Goochey said. “What I’m concerned with is equality.”
Doug said if a department needs new equipment and if they bring a request to the board, the board will get it for them. Dailey said departments are supposed to put in their major funding requests during the yearly budget meeting, giving them the best chance of getting their request approved.
“We’re trying to do the best we can,” Doug said.
Some members from the rural departments disagreed that they should have to come to the board and make a request for equipment. Instead, they said the board knows what equipment each department has and should know when they need replacements.
“But I don’t know what you specifically need unless you bring it up,” Doug said.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said state statute 35-508 also states that the Brown County Rural Fire District must “organize, establish, equip, maintain and supervise” fire departments serving the district. Therefore, maybe a formula or fair way to allocate the funds between all the districts could be created.
“That’s basically what we’re asking for,” Buechle said.
Attorney Todd Flynn quoted state statute 35-501, which states that rural fire districts should pro-
the “same type of protection” to rural citizens as is available in cities and villages.
“I don’t think what they’re asking for is equal,” Flynn said. “They’re just asking for same.”
He also suggested allotting a certain portion of the yearly budget to each department.
Tim Iverson said that as the Ainsworth Fire Department added new trucks and equipment, their Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating went up, subsequently lowering insurance rates, and since other area departments haven’t gotten new equipment, their ratings have stayed the same.
However, Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala said Ainsworth’s higher ISO rating is because the town has a better water supply than nearby towns - namely two water towers - not because of the fire department’s equipment.
Fiala said they have to undergo an audit every two years and pay to maintain certified pumper trucks. They also have to show training records for Ainsworth firemen to keep the city’s insurance rating.
“I’m glad to have it [training] to keep myself safe and keep my firemen safe,” he said.
Following discussion about fund allocation, a motion was made by Dailey to form a committee to disperse funds for each department from the tax funds. Seconded by DeBolt. Yes - Dailey, DeBolt and Doug Rau. No - Larry Rau and Painter. Motion carried.
Updates were given on the new South Pine and Ainsworth trucks, Raven fire hall, insurance benefit forms, personnel and training. The next meeting was set for Tuesday, October 24th at 7:00 p.m.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:28 p.m.