County officials and county volunteer fire chiefs met at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Room 201 of the Daviess County Courthouse to discuss issues surrounding the "appropriate use" letter sent to fire chiefs about approved and unapproved activities at volunteer fire stations.
In May, Fiscal Court asked for a list from the 10 volunteer fire chiefs outlining all events and uses that take place at each respective fire station so that their new insurer and underwriter, Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo), could better understand what they could and could not insure.
"I think it went well," Daviess County Fire Chief Dwane Smeathers said. "It was productive. They discussed some issues and misunderstandings and the fire department presented some issues that they wanted clarification on. The judge (Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly) and Commissioner (Charlie) Castlen and the staff agreed that they would look into it. It was an open discussion on both sides and the judge welcomed them to bring up any and everything. He didn't want anyone to leave wishing they hadn't. It was productive."
Tuesday's meeting provided an opportunity for clarification in the part of the court and for chiefs and volunteer firemen alike to voice concerns and ask the court to discuss possible alternatives with KACo, Mattingly said.
"They asked if we would take their concerns to KACo," he said. "They had concerns and requests, and I instructed Jordan (Daviess County Purchasing Manager Jordan Johnson) to talk to KACo. We presented and tried to answer the questions from Facebook and the chiefs as well as issues that hadn't been thought about that required further explanation. In the end, it was productive."
A list of unapproved activities includes youth sports signups and meetings, Boy/Girl Scout meetings, wedding and baby showers, birthday parties, family reunions and more.
While the meeting was amicable there are certain stations that will feel the sting, like the Utica Fire Station, Eric Grimes, Utica fire station chief, said.
"It is a change from what we are used to doing," he said. "Honestly, I am not happy about it. We are a community-based department and took pride in involving our community. If you lived in the Utica area you could use that as a community center. It was a service outside of emergency that we could provide. I'll do whatever the court asks me to do. I may not like it, but am willing to accept the policy changes. Mostly, I feel bad for the community. Some in our community don't have the money to rent a fellowship hall or a space for parties or wedding showers. I understand where they (the court) are coming from, but I would like some options."
Johnson said he will be meeting with representatives from KACo to discuss further options.
"We are going to sit down and have a discussion with KACo in regards to these public uses," Johnson said. "It is likely that these conversations won't lead anywhere, because some of these events are so far removed from the scope of a fire station. However, It is worth the discussion. Even in terms of waivers, it is an extremely difficult issue. That is what will be discussed with KACo, if there a path through that complexity."
"One of the major distinctions here is that 20 years ago the fire stations were funded by dues collected," he said. "Those dues have since been added to the property tax bills and in the state's eyes, it is public money. That is why it is held to the standard of public money for public purpose. The changes will take time because you have people in these stations that have been in it through the transition of funding. They were different times -- the law was not different, but things were handled differently before it was a tax. Every entity funded by tax money has to meet that standard."
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org.