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Ronnie Barnes and Mark Rexroat, chiefs of the Milton and Bedford volunteer fire departments, respectively, made a plea Monday night, asking Fiscal Court to avoid large cuts to the county’s contributions to the the two entities.
Fiscal Court will begin working on the 2009-10 county budget during a special meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 6.
“We don’t expect the full amount, because times are hard,” Barnes said. “But I would hate to see great big cuts.”
“We understand the [Fiscal Court’s] burdens,” Rexroat said. “We apply for as many grants as we can, but a lot of them require matching funds. So, we have to come up with a portion” of any grants received. “You have to update equipment; you can’t fight fires with bunker outfits that are 15 years old.”
In the 2008-09 budget, both departments received $38,000 from county coffers. Milton VFD received $10,000 from the city of Milton; Bedford VFD received $10,500 from the city of Bedford.
The departments rely on paid subscriptions by property owners in the county to fund the remainder of their budgets.
However, Barnes said getting everyone to pay their subscriptions is difficult. He said only about 55- 60 percent of property owners in the county pay the annual $35 subscription fee for fire protection by the March 31 deadline. City residents in Milton and Bedford are covered by the funding paid by each city commission.
Those who don’t pay the fee risk owing the department $750, which they will be billed should firefighters be called to their properties on an emergency call, he said.
If all subscriptions were paid, that money plus funding from the city and county would cover most of his budget, which runs from $100,000 to $115,000 annually, Barnes said.
To make up the funding deficits, both departments hold fund-raisers throughout the year. In fact, the Milton VFD hosts its annual fish fry this Saturday, April 25, from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. The event, held at Fire Station No. 1, also will include an antique tractor show.
Barnes said he has scheduled numerous fish fry events throughout the summer. Milton’s 20 volunteer firefighters will be serving fried fish sandwiches at events in Carrollton and Madison, Ind., as well as events in Trimble County.
“We’re not turning any [events] down,” Barnes said. But, “it’s getting harder and harder. I had two volunteers quit because they said they joined to fight fires, not fry fish. We’re doing everything we can do, and it’s costing us members.”
Barnes said the department usually brings in about $2,500 at each fish fry, with about $1,200 to $1,500 of that being profit. The rest goes to cover expenses.
Barnes said unfunded state and federal man¬dates also take a toll on his department. Recently, the department had to remodel a bathroom to install a shower facility for firefighers, as mandated by the state.
“That cost over $3,000, and we done a lot of the work ourselves,” he said.
“We hear ya,” said Randy Stevens, Trimble County Judge-Executive, at the meeting. “We’ll hash it out, and you’ll be funded to the utmost amount we can do. You can count on the backing and support and funding of the court, to our utmost.”
“We know [being a volunteer firefighter] can consumer your life,” said District 1 Magistrate Nolan Hamilton.
Barnes agreed. He said he works 60 to 70 hours a week for the Milton department. His volunteers all put in tremendous amounts of time, in addition to working full-time jobs.
Any resident in the Milton fire district wishing to pay their fire subscriptions may send a check for $35 to Milton Volunteer Fire and Rescue, P.O. Box 256, Milton, KY 40045, or drop off the payment at Farmers Bank of Milton on Ferry Street.
Subscriptions for Bedford fire district residents may be mailed to Bedford Volunteer Fire and Rescue, P.O. Box 271, Bedford, KY 4006, or drop off the payment at Bedford Loan and Deposit Bank, 45 Hwy. 42 East, Bedford.