County to oversee public funding of volunteer fire departments

Published 10:50 pm Monday, March 25, 2019

Pike County volunteer fire departments will now have to go through the Pike County Commission to gain access to tobacco tax funds.

The commission voted unanimously on Monday to enter into an agreement with the fire departments in consultation with the Pike County Firefighter’s association to set “certain standards and criteria which shall be met by all paid and volunteer fire departments with which it enters into a contract.

The agreement comes a year after former volunteer Pike County Fire and Rescue chief John Register was charged with first-degree theft of property, accused by the state of misusing funds.

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Another Pike County Fire and Rescue volunteer, Clifton Davis, was charged with second-degree theft of property on March 11 of this year.

“All the (volunteer) departments receive funding from different sources, whether public or government,” said State Fire Marshal Scott Pilgreen after Davis’ arrest. “Too often we have departments who are not applying good accounting practices and have people in the department who are using the money to their own gain.”

The agreement sets 14 requirements for the volunteer fire departments to abide by in order to receive tobacco tax funding, which is the primary source of public funding for the departments.

The first three requirements are for the departments to meet codes of Alabama, the Alabama Forestry Commission, and the State of Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts financial and compliance guidelines for volunteer fire departments.

One requirement states that the department “must have a coverage area that is determined through the Pike County 911 Office” and the department must also have a station within that determined coverage area.

The department must also have¬ a rating by the Insurance Services Office and proof of the rating must be provided to the Pike County Commission office.

All funds provided must be spent on costs associated with services provided to Pike County or through mutual aid agreements.

The agreement will also require departments to report tobacco tax expenditures to the commission. The agreement specifically prohibits the use of tobacco tax revenues toward the payment of volunteers for their response to emergency calls or for reimbursement for fuel in personal vehicles.

Departments receiving tobacco tax will also have to meet a minimum threshold of training, including a minimum of 25 hours of continuing education as well as other trainings and certifications.

The Pike County Volunteer Firefighters Association will be required to provide an annual budget to the commission for all expenses to be paid out of tobacco tax funds. The commission will determine monthly distribution based on the annual budget needs and the actual received tobacco tax funds from the previous year.

Once the Association’s funds have been distributed, the remaining funds will be divided equally among all other volunteer fire departments that have signed the agreement.

In other business, the commission:

• Awarded a bid for the provision of food to the Pike County Jail on an item-by-item basis.

• Removed the item “Pike County Emergency Management and Communications District” from the agenda. The agenda notes that it had been on the agenda for 19 meetings for the commission to discuss the potential merger of EMA and e-911 offices.

The commission will meet again on Monday, April 8 upstairs at the Pike County Health Department . The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the business meeting will follow at 6 p.m.