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Error costing volunteer fire departments

[8/28/01]A state error will cost Warren County volunteer fire departments nearly $10,000 in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, but supervisors say they will try to make up the difference.

“We’re trying to take up the slack,” Board of Supervisors President Richard George said.

Warren County Volunteer Fire Coordinator Kelly Worthy said the loss of $9,336.66 probably will not cripple any of the county’s six volunteer departments, but each could feel the effects.

“LeTourneau is saving for a new truck,” Worthy said. “Some departments may have more expenses at one time than another.”

Worthy has given supervisors a tally of what each department had left over in funds that, according to state law, must be used for fire fighting.

Warren County received $98,307.39 in state funds this year. The county spent $67,600 on the departments in 2000-2001 and increased the proposed budget to $80,000 because of the loss in state aid.

Worthy said each department can carry forward state funds issued to the department. The board of supervisors must be notified of any leftover funds, and some departments have more or less money available depending on expenses, such as having to buy new equipment or the number of times the volunteers have responded.

“We spent $143,000 on the last new fire truck, then there’s utility bills, water bills,” Worthy said. “The money doesn’t go that far.”

The state funds are divided equally, but costs are not equal, Worthy said.

“If one is planning on buying a new truck, they may scrimp and save a little more,” Worthy said. “Eagle Lake and LeTourneau have been trying to put some back where they can. You have to plan ahead.”

Population determines how much state money each county gets. Then county supervisors decide how it should be divided among fire districts.

Warren County has six volunteer fire stations with four satellite stations for LeTourneau, Eagle Lake, Northeast and Fisher Ferry and 85 to 100 volunteers. The other two departments are Culkin and Bovina.

The county plans to apply for a grant from the state’s Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Project for the Eagle Lake Volunteer Fire Department. The truck would hold a minimum of 1,000 gallons of water.

Three other Warren County volunteer fire departments have received the state funds for truck purchases in previous years. The LeTourneau, Culkin and Bovina departments have truck financed with RFTAAP grants.

The grants were distributed by the Mississippi Insurance Department’s Rural Fire Truck Review Committee to 59 cities and counties whose fire departments serve primarily rural areas.

The Mississippi Legislature approved $2.85 million for the program this year. About $11.7 million has been spent on the project since it started five years ago. The grants have helped to purchase more than 230 new fire trucks throughout the state.

Other opportunities for funding are also available to local fire departments through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s assistance top firefighters program.

In the sixth round of awards, 191 fire departments, including 11 in Mississippi, received $6.1 million for equipment, training and fire trucks, and $49.5 million has been awarded to date. FEMA will distribute a total of $100 million in grants through Sept. 30.

The Vicksburg Fire Department applied for two grants through the FEMA program in April and should know if awards will be received in the next couple of weeks, Anne Doyle of the VFD said.

Of the Warren County Volunteer Fire Departments, only Eagle Lake applied for the FEMA grant but no word of award has been received, Worthy said.

“I think there was some apprehension because of it being federal money and the criteria used in dealing with federal funding,” Worthy said as to why he thinks the other departments did not apply. “The county can’t do it for them, the individual districts have to apply.”