Polk proposes to have fire committee for all fire departments

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, January 26, 2017

COLUMBUS – The Polk County Board of Commissioners is considering creating one fire committee for all six fire departments.

Currently each fire department has a fire commission and commissioners say it would be easier to have one expert committee to deal with and recommend budgets to commissioners.

If the committee is approved and appointed, all six fire tax commissions would be disbanded.

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Commissioners met Monday, Jan. 23 and heard from fire marshal and emergency management director Bobby Arledge and Rocky Hyder from Henderson County Emergency Management. Henderson County has a fire and rescue advisory committee for all of its county fire departments.

Commissioner Shane Bradley, who is a former Saluda fire chief, made the suggestion last month.

Arledge said commissioners requested he do some research last month, saying Henderson County has done it for many years.

Hyder said the fire and rescue advisory committee in Henderson County was established in 2000.

“We have found out over time if we put the right people on this committee we can get good advice,” Hdyer said.

Hyder said things like budgets are handled through this committee and the committee then makes recommendations to the board of commissioners.

“They have replaced the fire tax commission,” Hyder said.

Hyder also said the committee establishes a standard budget document that has certain requirements with audits and one of the things the Henderson County committee is working on now is a four-year budget that will coincide with revaluations so tax rates for residents will remain the same.

The Henderson County committee is made up of seven members, including three members nominated by the board of commissioners, three members nominated by the fire chiefs association and those six members then choose the seventh member.

Commissioners seek out professionals from fields like accounting and specialists in commercial buildings, Hyder said. The seventh member is typically someone from the county’s smaller fire departments, Hyder said, to give the committee a good balance of representation.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson thanked commissioner Bradley for having experience working with Henderson County’s committee.

Bradley said he started in fire service in 1984 so he’s seen it come a long way.

“Working with this (committee) was very helpful setting up the budget and getting advice,” Bradley said. “It gave that break between the fire department and commissioners. It was really great and I’d like to see it in Polk County.”

Commissioner chair Tommy Melton asked Hyder about the cons of the committee.

Hyder said there certainly were cons when the committee first started. He said parties need to understand this is a positive thing and that commissioners will have a board of experts. Hyder said he’d be happy to work with Polk County to help get the committee started.

Currently all six fire departments come to commissioners to present annual budgets, with many departments in the past few years asking for tax rate increases for various reasons. A committee would end that practice, with the committee recommending fire department budgets to commissioners.

Polk County Attorney Jana Berg thanked Hyder and said he has already sent her a copy of Henderson County’s bylaws and the structure of the staffing of the committee as well as shared forms they use, including audit requirements.

Commissioner Myron Yoder asked when Polk can move forward with its own committee.

“We all like fire departments and we care about public safety,” Yoder said. “We don’t have all the knowledge and to have a board of people that can discuss it with the fire department is a no brainer.”

County manager Marche Pittman said it would be a volunteer board created by a resolution and he thinks it can be done before budget season this fiscal year. Pittman also suggested the county get consensus from the fire departments.

Arledge said the topic has already been brought up at the last chiefs’ meeting and he thinks they are interested.

Berg suggested holding an informational meeting with the fire departments and said she could draft the bylaws for the committee. Then, Berg said, commissioners could find members they’d like to serve on the committee. Commissioners could then put the item on the agenda, appoint a committee and adopt the bylaws.

“I am one zillion percent behind this and would like to see us move as quickly as we can,” said Melton.

Melton said the item can be brought back to a meeting in February for an update on the progress.