Rural Hawkins VFDs seek grant funding to replace expired gear

Jeff Bobo • May 14, 2019 at 2:21 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Commissioners are considering using wheel tax revenue set aside for public safety expenses to begin helping volunteer fire departments replace outdated turnout gear.

Clinch Valley VFD firefighter Roger Lamb addressed the County Commission's Budget Committee Monday afternoon about his department's request for $5,000 to match a grant that would replace 10 sets of expired turnout gear.

Monday afternoon the Budget Committee heard a handful of requests for funding increases from recipients of county contributions.

More contribution recipients are expected to be heard Tuesday as the committee wraps up three days of hearings on the proposed 2019-20 budget.

Lamb told the committee Monday that all 10 of his department's active firefighters have bunker gear and air packs that expired in February.

That gear, which costs between $7,000 and $10,000 to equip each firefighter, is only supposed to be used for 10 years before it must be replaced.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell is helping Clinch Valley VFD, as well as two other county volunteer fire departments, apply for a 95% grant to purchase new turnout gear.

If the grant application is approved, Clinch would need only $5,000 in matching funds to purchase $100,000 worth of gear.

But for a small department like Clinch Valley, $5,000 is hard to come by. That's why they're asking the county to add that amount one time only to the CVVFD annual contribution.

"We try to do fundraisers, but as you know, you can only do so many fundraiser," Lamb told the committee. "We've already done two, and with our budget like it is we just can't swing it. Actually we need more (than $5,000) but I'm trying to keep it to a bare minimum."

All non municipal VFDs receive $19,110 annually from the county, while municipal fire departments receive $17,150 from the county.

Lamb noted that the Striggersville and Lakeview VFDs are applying for similar grants to pay for new turnout gear.

When the County Commission approved the $40 wheel tax increase in 2017, $10 of that $40 increase was set aside to cover the cost of public safety (fire, rescue, EMS etc) contributions in the budget.

The main purpose for earmarking those funds was to ensure that there would be revenue every year to cover the cost of public safety contributions, which is threatened and/or reduced every time the county experiences a budget shortfall.

County Finance Director Eric Buchanan reported to the Budget Committee Friday that the Public Safety Fund is expected to end the 2018-19 fiscal year with a surplus of about $16,000.

Committee Chairman John Metz noted that covering a 5% match for VFD turnout gear would be a good use for that surplus.

"They all actually need updated equipment," Metz told the committee Monday. "So many departments per year will apply for a grant, and maybe we should set aside those funds for those matching grants. You're looking at a 5% match. That's a huge bang for your buck that we need to take advantage of."

Metz added, "That $16,000 — that's going to be for three departments essentially, so we would be able to cover the three (grants) that Mr. Lamb is saying have been put in. That would adequately cover that.”

The Budget Committee took no action on Lamb’s request, however. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearings the committee will schedule another meeting to decide which requests will be approved.

Metz added, “I think everybody is on board, based on our conversations last week, that this is a pressing issue and something we want to work to try to find a solution for so we can say we're on board with trying to find a way to make that happen."

Other contribution increase requests heard Monday included:

* Hawkins County Fireman's Association President Jim Klepper who asked for an increase from $20,580 to $25,000 for the purpose of purchasing firefighter training videos.

The Fireman's Association helps coordinate training for the eight non-municipal fire departments, as well as cover the cost of workman's comp insurance for all non-municipal volunteer firefighters.

* Retired Hawkins County teacher and former Director of Schools Charlotte Britton, who requested a $1,540 increase for the Hawkins County Imagination Library program, from $1,960 to $3,500.

The program provides 60 books, or one book every month, to eligible Hawkins County children from birth to age 5, and Britton noted that enrollment has increased 22.28% from 2014-19, for a total of 2,353 children receiving books.

Currently the program has a local monthly bill of about $2,500. Britton noted that in January and February of last year there were no books because the local funding was dwindling.