Fire association again rebuffedMembers of the Mitchell Rural Fire Association again got the cold shoulder from the county Tuesday in their latest attempt to secure funding for a $50,000 piece of firefighting equipment. As part of an agreement with the Mitchell Fire Division, the association agreed to replace the association’s aging grassfire rig by the end of the year. The new rig is being fitted out and the final bill will be due in the coming weeks.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Members of the Mitchell Rural Fire Association again got the cold shoulder from the county Tuesday in their latest attempt to secure funding for a $50,000 piece of firefighting equipment.
As part of an agreement with the Mitchell Fire Division, the association agreed to replace the association’s aging grassfire rig by the end of the year. The new rig is being fitted out and the final bill will be due in the coming weeks.
But as the payment deadline nears, the association still is short on money to pay for the rig, despite repeated requests by association treasurer Burt Wilson for the needed cash.
Wilson wants the county to pay about $17,261 for the now-defunct Mitchell Township’s 36 percent share of the new grassfire rig.
The commissioners said $5,990 previously given by the county to the association is all it will receive. The commissioners believe the association should have done a better job billing property owners and planning for the long-anticipated expense.
Wilson said that means the association — which includes portions of seven townships — will have to borrow money at 6 percent, if its membership can agree on whether to get a loan.
Wilson said other association members have paid their share and are reluctant to co-sign a loan to cover the former Mitchell Township’s portion of the new rig. Prosper Township, for instance, cashed a $15,000 certificate of deposit to come up with its share of expenses.
The shortfall is creating hard feelings among association membership, he told the commissioners. At Tuesday’s commission meeting, discussion on the issue extended a 15-minute agenda item to an hour.
In addition to Wilson, the MRFA representatives present included Brian Iburg, Hanson Township; Larry Olsen, Lisbon Township; Dean Strand, Prosper Township; and Giles Greenway, Beulah Township. The fire association also includes parts of Perry and Plano townships, Hanson County, and those parts of Davison County that composed the nowdefunct Mitchell Township.
When Mitchell Township dissolved in 2002, the county took over responsibility for township roads. The county also budgets $3,000 annually for the association for fire protection from the fire protection line of the county’s $396,928 secondary roads budget. That budget is used for all county secondary roads, a point that was not understood by all at Tuesday’s meet- ing.
Those portions of area townships in the association will pay the following approximate percentages and amounts for approximately $48,000 that is still due on the grassfire rig: Beulah, 11.86 percent ($5,693); Hanson, 6.45 percent ($3,096); Lisbon, 6.97 percent ($3,346); Perry, 12.31 percent ($5,909); Plano, 6.08 percent ($2,918) and Prosper, 20.37 percent ($9,778).
Despite pleas by several association members, commissioners refused to move money from the secondary roads budget. They agreed with Auditor Susan Kiepke, who said giving money to the group would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Commission Chairman Jerry Fischer said doing such could set a negative precedent.
“The presence of these members indicates how serious this is for us,” Wilson told the four commissioners. Commissioner Dick Ziegler, who is recovering from surgery, was absent.
“I feel that I had to come back and try again. A loan will be a last resort,” said Wilson. “If the money’s in the secondary roads budget, why not give us access to it?”
Strand tried a more conciliatory tone and told the commissioners, “We’re all on the same team here.”
Olsen was blunt.
“You gentlemen are public servants, not bank loan officers. I don’t want to see my half township without fire protection because of this,” he said.
He argued that forcing the association to get a loan at 6 percent makes little sense when the county has nearly $400,000 available.
“What are you getting for that money on ice — 1.5 percent?” he asked.
Olsen said Fischer is making the matter a political issue.
“You’re letting politics get in the way of doing the right thing, Mr. Chairman,” he said.
Fischer shot back that it was poor management and failure to regularly assess and collect levies that got the association in its current financial fix. In the end, all the commissioners supported Fischer.