Weaver officials consider volunteer model for firefighting operation
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jun 25, 2013 | 3066 views |  0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tim Hicks, Robert Mardant, Steven Glen and Bryan Burdette stand beside a Weaver fire engine. (Anniston Star photo by Courtney Davies)
Tim Hicks, Robert Mardant, Steven Glen and Bryan Burdette stand beside a Weaver fire engine. (Anniston Star photo by Courtney Davies)
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If the numbers add up and county volunteer fire officials give the OK, the city of Weaver could get out of the firefighting business in the next fiscal year.

Weaver officials are considering turning the city’s Fire Department into a volunteer model, which would eliminate the approximate $35,000 in employee salaries and equipment payments from the annual budget.

The change, however, would depend on two separate factors: whether it’s financially beneficial to the department and whether it’s acceptable to the Calhoun County Volunteer Fire Association.

According to Weaver Councilman Jeff Clendenning, the first matter might be a no-brainer.

“It would save us money, and get them more money,” Clendenning said of estimates he made based on legislation that governs funding for volunteer fire departments in Calhoun County.

A complex formula governs the distribution of tax money to fire departments in Calhoun County, based on which fire district property is in, whether it is within a city’s limits and whether that fire district is served by a municipal fire department.

Property tax money collected within each city and town goes to the municipal fire departments. A separate pool of money collected in volunteer fire districts is distributed by the Volunteer Fire Association to the 10 volunteer fire departments in the county. One-third of the money is evenly distributed, one-third is distributed based on population, and one-third is based on total land area.

The Calhoun County Revenue Commissioner’s Office said Monday it could not complete a request for annual distribution of funds to county and city fire departments until today.

Weaver’s potential share of that tax would naturally cut into money the other 10 volunteer fire districts in Calhoun County currently receive, which could be a deciding factor in whether the association would approve of the change.

That issue is still a long way off from any decision, though. Mayor Wayne Willis said no approach has been made to the association about adding Weaver to the tax distribution model.

“Our intention is to ask permission,” Willis said. “Right now we’re still going over the numbers, and once we do that, we’ll see if we can get with the association and ask them if they’ll have us.”

Willis said the council and Weaver Fire Chief Brian Bunn still needed to look over figures to see if the department would be better off with the county tax before an approach to the association.

Willis said he doesn’t expect any clear-cut plan of action until Weaver begins to review its upcoming budget, which needs to be finished by October.

Mike Howard, Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department’s chief and Weaver’s building inspector, said the association has never voted on accepting a new member.

“I don’t even know if legally any precedent had been set up for that situation,” Howard said.

Besides the additional tax money, Howard said the biggest advantage of the volunteer model, is the freedom from city control of his department

“Running a fire department is incredibly expensive,” Howard said. “I don’t have to explain to non-fireman why I’m spending money.”

The downside? Not having a City Council to back up his department if all else fails.

“If all my trucks stopped working tomorrow, I wouldn’t have the city to fall back on,” Howard said. “It’s concerning, especially if you’ve never been in that situation before.”

That issue might not be a problem for Weaver, Clendenning said. Although he said he couldn’t speak for the rest of his council, Clendenning said his intent is to use some of the money currently going to the department to make donations and payments on equipment. It’s a similar approach Ohatchee takes with its volunteer fire department, he said.

Weaver Fire Chief Brian Bunn said he doesn’t see advantages or disadvantages to switching over to a volunteer department. In all likelihood, he said, the changes to the actual day-to-day operations would be minimal.

“We’re pretty much a volunteer department anyway,” Bunn said, explaining his firefighters are only paid a $10 stipend per call, and only the chief and assistant chiefs receive salaries. “I don’t think anyone would notice.”

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
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