At last week’s Upson County Board of Commission meeting, Northside Volunteer Fire Department was denied a request made to the board for the purchase of protective gear through using funding designated for the VFD’s in the 2011 SPLOST. Although the board felt it to be a legitimate request, County Attorney Paschal English stated it could not be legally permitted due to the way SPLOST funds were presented to the public on the ballot. When voted upon, the SPLOST stated the $500,000 designated for the VFD’s was intended to be used for the purchase of facilities or equipment. English noted that while protective gear is technically a form of equipment, it does not fall under the list of what is considered by the state as an expenditure for SPLOST funding; citing items such as fire trucks as an example of what is included.
The letter, which was submitted to the board from Northside Chief Andy Hay, requested funding for items such as protective clothing, hoods, helmets, and gloves. English stated he researched the law after reading the letter and he checked with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) for guidance before making a decision.
“We were so concerned about this issue because we think it is a valid request, but not on a SPLOST,” English said. “We talked with ACCG and without hesitation they said absolutely not. So, it is not just us, it’s the ACCG who looked at it and came to the same conclusion that it would be an irregular allocation of SPLOST funds.”
Commissioner Frank Spraggins suggested the board have the attorney and County Manager Jim Wheeless set up a meeting with the local VFD chiefs to explain what can actually be purchased with the funding so there would be no confusion. Wheeless noted he had asked the VFD’s to submit a request to the board so the process of purchasing items could be started, however the board is now aware of what type of purchases are legal.
After hearing the attorney’s recommendation, Commissioner Spraggins made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Commissioner Steve Hudson. Prior to the vote being called, Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston made a comment on the matter.
“When this 2011 SPLOST came up and we were working on it, there was a request for a couple of million dollars to be placed in there (SPLOST) for this. It was knocked down to $500,000 because four of the six volunteer fire departments went on record as stating they did not want any part of it. But anyway,” said Blackston before calling for the vote.
The board voted 5-0 to deny the request.
In other business, Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder said he would like to reiterate that the Salem Fire Department was in need of having its’ tanker truck replaced since the water pump had gone out.
“A fire truck that won’t pump water is just a static display and it doesn’t do any good when you have a fire,” said Wilder.
He continued noting the state requires the truck to have the capacity to hold 1,000 gallons of water.
Wilder also noted Lincoln Park Volunteer Fire Department was in need of a place to house their fire truck. Currently it is housed in three different locations and Wilder stated he feared that could cause a horrible situation if a fire took place. Chairman Blackston stated there is a piece of property in Lincoln Park which meets the qualifications of what is needed to house the fire truck and he has spoken with the owner, the board will just need to make an offer.
Blackston told the board to be thinking of how much money they would be willing to spend on both the tanker truck for Salem and the property for Lincoln Park and they would make a decision on what to do soon.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1