Hale Co. firefighters: Show us the money

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2004

Representatives of the nine volunteer fire departments in Hale County demanded Thursday morning that past due tax revenues be distributed to their association.

The firefighters protested on the steps of the county courthouse in Greensboro.

“We’re having problems getting our money each month,” said Mile Blum, president of the Hale County Firefighters Association.

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County voters approved a two-mil tax for fire departments six years ago. The money comes from the county tax collector to the county commission office and then a check should be sent each month to firefighters within 30 days.

Fifty of the firefighters went before the commission in October 2003 demanding their money, he said. They were told they would receive the back revenue within the next few weeks. The association only received half of what was owed, $4,600. They were told the remainder was sent our Jan. 26, 2004, but it was still not received. Blum said he had heard the check is still on the county administrator’s desk.

“All I can do is verify that the commission office is holding the check up from being mailed out,” said commission chairman Leland Avery.

Money has backed up in the past to as much as $50,000 before it was paid, Blum said.

The county commission voted in August to pay the firefighters the revenue every Friday, Avery said. It is not being done, Blum said.

The association president is also concerned about other bills the county is not paying. “They (the commission) are not performing their duty,” he said.

The lack of tax money is hurting each volunteer fire department. “Each fire department has to borrow money to buy trucks, equipment, buildings and everything else,” Blum said. “Their payment is based on the two-mil tax, and if it doesn’t come in they can’t make their payments.”

“We need much more than we’re actually getting (even with regular tax payments),” said Jacquelyn Averette of the Friendship Volunteer Fire Department. They need a new fire truck for satellite station six miles away and also need a new defibrillator for emergencies in the Lake Payne area.

The county fire departments also need a better radio communications system, said Leslie Averette, also of the Friendship department.

“We’re not making much progress without any funds,” Jacquelyn Averette said.

“When you purchase a truck and you try to make payments on it, you don’t have the money,” said Brock Rester, Moundville fire chief. “It gets tight. That’s our only income coming in. We can’t buy any equipment or upgrade what we’ve got now. We’re just struggling to get by.

“The public are paying their taxes; they’re paying us. It’s the county that’s holding our money….I don’t know what they’re doing with it.

“The taxpayers need to know where their money is being spent,” Rester said.

County firefighters have been trying to settle this problem for two years, Blum said.

“We want the commissioners to do their job for the taxpayers. That’s who voted them in. We want the taxpayers to know what’s going on….The only time we can get them to do anything is for us to come here as an organization and get the news people here. That’s the only thing they will pay attention to.

Blum wants the county administrator and several of the commission members to resign. “They’re not doing their job,” he said.

When asked to comment on the situation, Regina Chavers, county administrator, did not return a call from The Demopolis Times.