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“I’ve enjoyed my years of serving the community and I’m going to miss it.”
Ronnie Barnes, Fire Chief of the Milton Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department since 1995, has announced his upcoming resignation citing an inability to work effectively with Trimble County Fiscal Court. Barnes has not yet announced the effective date of the resignation.
“It gives me great displeasure. I didn’t want my tenure at the Milton Fire Department to end this way,” he said Monday. “But due to the circumstances I feel like maybe it’s best for the department that I resign.”
Barnes said the budget approved recently by fiscal court was the “deciding factor” in his decision to step down.
“We’ve struggled and I know when times are hard everybody cuts back,” Barnes said. “We’ve cut back tremendously. I understand the county has a strain on their budget. But where is the priority? Your volunteers and the people that’s fulfilling these obligations do the trainings, do the meetings, do the actual fire runs. And then for a member of fiscal court to stand up and say that it doesn’t hurt you to do fundraisers.”
Barnes read a story in the May 26 issue of The Trimble Banner about the county budget in which it was stated that Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens said the budget included a line item of $20,000 for development at the Trimble County Park. Plans for the money, the article stated, included building a Babe Ruth baseball field.
“But $16,000 of that could have restored what the fire departments were cut the year before,” Barnes said.
“I spoke with Chief Barnes,” Stevens said yesterday, “and he questioned that line item versus the financial support they were getting which wasn’t cut this year, it was just held level.”
An allotment of $30,000 to both Milton and Bedford fire departments was included in the county’s current budget, and the same for the next fiscal year, Stevens said. Having a line item in the budget for money projected for the park doesn’t necessarily mean those dollars will be available to spend.
“That doesn’t mean we have taken money out of a checking account and have set it over here for a specific park project,” Stevens said. “It simply says that if funds are available here is a budget item that will allow for that work to happen. By funds being available, I’m talking about whether we would receive a park grant—a baseball grant or a walking trail grant—then we would need to be in position in our budget to spend those funds.”
By Kentucky statute each county is required to provide fire and emergency services.
Stevens both acknowledged that one contentious issue was raised during a recent meeting of Trimble County Fiscal Court when the magistrates asked the fire departments for financial statements.
“The court asked for a full financial picture of our departments so we could see if their needs are being met,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t necessarily an effort to scrutinize where they’re at or how much they’re spending or what they need. It was an effort to see if that level of support was meeting their needs. When you ask questions like that it feels personal. I think he saw it as a prying question instead of an informational exchange.”
Barnes said he interpreted the request as the magistrates seeking to control the fire departments.