July 24, 2014 - 10:38
Subsidized firefighting urged
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Chief Steve Lofty told the budget committee he was concerned about the future of the volunteer department.

Polk County’s budget committee met last Tuesday to hear budget requests from the health, road, and sheriff’s departments, as well as West Polk Fire and Rescue. Chief Steve Lofty told the committee he was concerned about the future of the volunteer department. He suggested commissioners look down the road at subsidizing firefighters or combining fire and rescue with the ambulance service.

Lofty said the department was doing its best to get people trained, but firefighters often cannot afford to drive to fires. He said firefighters often ask each other for a ride to a fire or need help with gas money.

“Start making a plan now, or you will have a huge problem down the road when there’s nobody showing up to fight fires,” Lofty said.

According to Lofty, another issue being faced is losing elderly people in the support groups. He said the Ruritan Club had dissolved and the Conasauga station would fold and had no water. He said the facilities were being turned over the the fire department, but they needed funding to maintain them and pay utilities.

First District Commissioner John Pippenger said if the buildings were turned over to the county, the county would pay utilities. Lofty said a new building that could house a tanker in Ocoee was needed, and that with growth in the Ocoee area, more apparatus and bigger trucks were needed.

Lofty said the county was paying EMS to rent a building and suggested the two operations could be housed together. He said the fire department and EMS had the besti working relationship the county has ever had. Lofty said EMS could be used as more than EMS.

“So you’re talking about a paid fire department,” Pippenger asked. Lofty said it would take work to get it there. He said there was a time when it was a paid department.

Lofty said there would be cost savings from renting buildings. He said the paid department now was EMS, which could be a separate unit within the fire department.

“People can’t afford to buy fuel and take days off for training. It’s where we’re headed,” Lofty said. He said he welcomed a committee meeting to discuss the possibilities. He stressed the need to plan for what he felt was coming down the road.

Budget committee members also heard from Road Superintendent Roy Thomason, who shared information about the number of road miles paved in the last year. Money was spent fairly evenly throughout the three districts. Thomason said a patching machine was taking the place of most of the cold mix previously used for potholes.

According to Thomason, 75% of the cost of cold mix was cut by using the new patch machine. Aside from the cost, the work done by the patch machine is smoother and lasts longer. Thomason said one of his goals was to get rid of cold patch all together and he is close to eliminating it.

Thomason told the budget committee there were state grants available for road work and they have utilized the program some. He said the road departments portion of the grants was 25% and said if the funding was ever available from the county for the 25% he would be able to do more roads.

The Sheriff’s Department budget had few changes. Sheriff Bill Davis said there was an increase in law enforcement supplies because they needed to buy new bullet-proof vests. He said they would be reimbursed half of the $10,000

Davis said he felt there was a good, workable budget in place for whoever the new sheriff would be. Asked if there would be any new vehicle purchases needed this year, Davis said they were in the best shape they’d ever been in for vehicles.

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