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Fire chiefs want county reserves for radios

Staff writer

Now that word is out of a possible $16 million cash in county coffers, the first group asking for a piece of the pie — county fire districts — popped up at Monday’s commission meeting.

Lincolnville fire chief Les Kaiser joined two other chiefs to ask for a portion of the reserves to pay for new 800 MHz radios.

“We’re having to scrimp and scrape to do the radios,” Kaiser said.

“When the people see the unencumbered funds in the paper,” he continued, “the comments about it just being south of $16 million, there’s a lot of questions that come to me, like ‘Why isn’t the county helping out?’”

Kaiser said the countywide project has a $600,000 price tag over a two-year lease-purchase program with the first payment due in September 2018.

“That would be $300,000 a year, which is, compared to what is supposedly there, not very much,” Kaiser said. “This is a project that is needed.”

Kaiser appealed to commission chairman Randy Dallke, reminding him of his volunteer firefighting based out of Peabody.

“You know what the radio situation is like in the county,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of dead zones. The 800 MHz radio will make a difference. We’ve tested them, we’ve played with them. It is definitely a necessity.”

Kaiser said firefighters may not receive a Department of Agriculture grant that was hoped for.

He called the amount needed for the radio project a “drop in the bucket” compared to the reported amount of cash reserves.

“With the money that’s there, why do we have to do this?” Kaiser asked commissioners. “We’re forcing the people to come up with the dollars to keep the people in the county safe, to be able to respond to emergencies, to keep the responders safe.”

Dallke and county clerk Tina Spencer suggested the reported amount of cash reserves may not be accurate.

Last week, Randy Collett, Marion economic development director, and Anthony Roy, executive director of Hillsboro Development Corporation, questioned raising taxes while holding large cash balances.

They said the county has just shy of $16 million in unencumbered cash reserves, two to four times what would be a typical amount.

At the time, no commissioners or county officials challenged their statistics.

At Monday’s meeting, Spencer said she will prepare a sheet that addresses cash reserves for the next meeting.

“Some of these things that are being presented like free money, it’s not free money that’s not already committed,” Spencer said. “I think what would be appropriate is to come up with some information for folks so you have a more true picture of what it looks like.”

Commissioners added to the cash reserve earlier in the meeting when they transferred $87,470.23 from the oil and gas depletion fund to the general fund. The resolution said commissioners desired to use the funds for tax relief.

Kaiser offered another potential funding solution for the fire radios — the jail sales tax.

The half-cent sales tax will likely pay off the jail by early next year, which Kaiser said would give time to renew the tax for the first lease-purchase payment.

“In theory, would that be possible to put it to a vote of the public and let the public make a decision?” Kaiser asked.

“That’s a possibility of doing something like that,” Dallke responded. “We’ve also got some other building plans we’re looking at.”

Last modified Aug. 31, 2017

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