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Plea for help leads to policy change

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HUNTSVILLE — An impassioned plea by East 63 Fire Dept. Chief Darin West here Monday night has resulted in a shift in policy by County Commission and a 13-0 vote to allow the firefighters to conduct a fund-raising roadblock to solicit operating funds for the coming year.

The various volunteer fire departments throughout the county are allowed to conduct two roadblocks a year, but a few years ago the commission voted to prohibit roadblocks on holiday weekends — primarily due to traffic-related problems.

Since that time, however, the county cut $2,000 from its annual contribution to the departments, leaving each with $5,000.

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[s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]West said that was barely enough to cover the cost insurance ($4,601), let alone things like utilities, fuel, and the upkeep of the department’s equipment.

“We’re drained,” he said, and while he didn’t want to “pull the charter” and shut down the department, it is coming to that due to the lack of funds.

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“We need our money just as well as you need yours,” he told the commissioners.

West explained that for years, Memorial Day weekend was when his department conducted its big money-raising roadblock, which provided the funding necessary to keep the department running.

After it appeared that a number of commissioners were concerned about West’s plight, County Attorney John Beaty said an exception could be made on the written policy, but, he added, “when you make it for one you’ve got to make it for all.”

And that’s exactly what the commissioners did, following a motion by Blue Day and David Jeffers.

That exception vote was immediately followed by a vote to approve East 63’s roadblock on Saturday at the intersection of Baker Highway and Norma Road.

SEWER WOES DISCUSSED

County Mayor Jeff Tibbals and County Attorney Beaty have been given the authority to review the issue of the lack of funding to retire the debt on the Fairview area sewer collection system, and to make a specific recommendation on what needs to be done to correct it.

It was explained that the county receives no income from sewer bills to help retire hundreds of thousands of dollars in notes for the construction and upkeep of the sewer system — that all of the money goes to the Town of Huntsville, which is responsible for treating the sewage at its wastewater treatment facility.

Mayor Tibbals said he recently held meetings with the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of Huntsville (in an attempt to obtain at least some funding from them), as well was with the Huntsville Utility District’s Board of Commissioners (who was asked to assume the county’s sewer system).

Both meetings resulted in no solution to the problem, which, the mayor pointed out, is also faced with a June 15 deadline to have a solution to a state-mandated increase in revenue for improvements at the county’s wastewater treatment facility.

Tibbals said if the county is unable to come up with a plan, the state will impose a 99 percent increase in sewer bills over a three-year period.

The towns of Huntsville and Oneida are likewise facing state-mandated revenue increases for their wastewater treatment plants, the mayor said.

Monday night’s vote of the commission could possibly lead to litigation between the county and the Town of Huntsville ­— action several members of the commission apparently favor.

ATTORNEY OPINION RENDERED

County Attorney Beaty informed the commission that Road Supt. Dick Sexton’s stance with regard to his department being exempt from certain county personnel policies is unfounded.

That opinion was in response to Sexton’s statements in a work session held two weeks ago, regarding the issue of whether or not his department was governed by the current personnel policies, as well as whether or not the Finance Dept. had authority over his budget and the manner in which he handled expenditures within that budget.

And while there was no discussion or action following Beaty’s brief report to the commission Monday evening, it was later learned that he had, on May 16, provided (to the mayor, commissioners, road superintendent and finance director) a two-page memorandum in response to the request for a review of the personnel policy, state law, and resolutions adopted by the commission regarding these issues.

In that memorandum, Beaty wrote that “countywide” personnel policies which are “applicable to all county departments and employees” were adopted by the commission on June 28, 1999.

“Therefore,” he continued, “with regard to the specific question posed by Road Superintendent Sexton, it is my opinion that his department is governed by the county’s personnel policies adopted in 1999, as are all other departments unless and until an officeholder elects to adopt a separate policy.”

He went on to state in that memorandum all county departments “including budgeting and purchasing” are governed by the Financial Management Act of 1981, as well as the financial policies adopted by the commission in 2010.

Finally, in reference to recently imposed restrictions on spending by all county departments, Beaty wrote: “ . . . [T]he Comptroller of the Treasury has stated in writing that under general budgeting laws, a county may impound appropriations when less revenue is collected than estimated, and that counties are to avoid spending more money than is available.”

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Paul Roy
Paul Roy was the Independent Herald's founder, and longtime publisher and editor. He passed away in 2015 following a battle with lung cancer.
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