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Fire chief’s plea goes unanswered

Staff writer

Two weeks and two meetings after Lincolnville fire chief Lester Kaiser asked for county reserves to help pay for new 800 MHz radios, county officials failed to answer his questions.

“When do we order, who’s going to order, how are we going to order, is each department going to order individually or is (Sheriff) Rob (Craft) ordering for everybody, these are the questions that we’re going to have,” Kaiser told commissioners Monday.

None of his questions were answered.

Kaiser joined two other chiefs at the Aug. 28 meeting to plead for a portion of a reported $16 million in unencumbered cash in county reserves. Fire districts were the first group to ask for money after Marion and Hillsboro economic development directors asked commissioners why they would increase the mill levy with nearly $16 million in reserves.

At the time, county clerk Tina Spencer said she would prepare a sheet that addresses cash reserves for the next meeting. Two weeks and two meetings later, no sheet was prepared.

“Can you please explain to me the whys and the hows?” Kaiser asked. “These are already tax dollars that are here. What are the projects that we’re going to use them for? There was supposed to be a list.”

Spencer said she started an analysis going back 10 years to show ending cash balances in each fund.

“I can go line-by-line through the budget with anybody who wants to look, but what we have in our budget, it’s all earmarked for certain things,” Spencer said.

Kaiser said if the money is in fact earmarked, there should already be a list.

“A couple of my people have asked if this money was already earmarked, why isn’t there already a list for it,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser continued to press the issue.

“Budgets are a fickle item,” he asked. “You can move here, take there, and shuffle it around. How hard would it be for the county to help the emergency responders within Marion County to offset the cost of these radios?”

Commissioner Dianne Novak asked if it is possible for the county to pay for the radios.

“Yes, there is some money that we can probably pull together for it if the board decides to,” Spencer said.

Kaiser said the county should pay for the whole project, including the fire districts’ portions, as well as EMS, law enforcement, and other agencies.

“I know the city of Marion paid some or all of it themselves,” Kaiser said. “They should be reimbursed. This is a county project.”

He said counties typically pay for such a project elsewhere, but commissioner Randy Dallke said not all do.

Dallke said districts should have saved more money for the project.

“Some districts went out and started two years ago or three putting money back to save for this,” Dallke said. “Some didn’t.”

Even though he said his district saved money, Kaiser defended others, saying there was no definitive timeline, dollar amount, or project date.

“They didn’t know what to budget for,” Kaiser said. “How do you budget for something you don’t know what’s going to happen?”

Commissioner Kent Becker defended Kaiser. He said he remembered from his time serving on a fire board that there was little available information.

“If there is some way that we can help in some way, I would be in favor of looking at that,” Becker said.

USDA rural development loan specialist Tom Finger presented grant paperwork to commissioners. If approved, the five fire districts would receive $47,100 combined.

District Three, which includes Tampa and Ramona, would receive the most — $21,100 — because its demographics are poorest relative to the others.

Kaiser said districts have saved money and filed for additional grant money to help with the project, but it won’t be enough. His rough estimate for the entire project is about $700,000.

“I’ve got people that are screaming because we’re having to do this to get radios and supposedly there’s money here,” Kaiser said. “I don’t know how to answer them.”

Novak said the county should help the fire districts.

Commissioners made no motions and took no actions.

“We’ll take your request under consideration,” Dallke said.

Last modified Sept. 13, 2017

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