Polk progressing with fire and rescue committee
Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2017
COLUMBUS – The Polk County Board of Commissioners received the first draft of bylaws for a new fire and rescue advisory committee, which will oversee all six of the county’s fire departments and replace all current local fire tax commissions.
Commissioners met Feb. 6 and heard from county attorney Jana Berg about the drafted bylaws.
The mission of the committee “shall be to act as a liaison body between the individual fire and rescue departments and the county board of commissioners and advise the county board of commissioners on implementation of strategies for attaining and maintaining the best fire and rescue services feasible to the citizens of the county. The Polk County Board of Commissioners recognizes that each fire and rescue department is a private nonprofit corporation and as such, is governed by a board of directors, as set forth by state and federal statutes, therefore the fire and rescue advisory committee is empowered as advisory only.”
Berg discussed the terms of the members appointed to the board. She said members will serve three-year staggered terms, may be appointed, and cannot serve more than two full three-year terms. Members appointed by commissioners should have expertise in areas such as banking, loans and budgeting. At least three will have expertise in those areas, according to the bylaws.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson asked if a member served two full terms can they go off for a year and then come back on?
Berg said the way it is drafted now, they cannot exceed two full terms. She said if commissioners like, she could add the word “consecutive” to the bylaws and that would allow a member to go off the board and come back on later.
Berg also said there is a clause if it’s in the county’s best interest, to have someone serve more than two terms.
Commissioners came to a consensus to add the word “consecutive” to allow someone to go off the board and come back on later.
Other discussions included when Gasperson asked about coming to the board of commissioners if a fire department was going to finance a purchase of $50,000 or more. Gasperson asked if that should be in the bylaws.
Berg said part of setting up the board is that the county will see those types of expenditures if a fire department needs financing.
“That would be something you would see when it comes through the budget process because that board would present that to you,” said Berg.
Fire departments already have to get a letter of approval from the county in order to obtain financing, according to Polk County Manager Marche Pittman.
Pittman said there was a chief’s meeting recently and putting a specific number in the bylaws in terms of purchases was one of the elements the county got a significant amount of push back on. One was financing, Pittman said, and the other issue raised by chiefs was having this board implemented this fiscal year.
Commissioner chair Tommy Melton said if a fire department has to have a fire tax increase, the department has to come before the board of commissioners for approval currently.
Pittman said if a fire department needs a loan, the department has to have a letter from the county saying the department is in good standing. Pittman suggested the county could say it refuses to write a letter until the county is satisfied the department has good finances.
Berg said Polk could create a budget form for the committee. She said Henderson County has sent her one they use currently.
“Perhaps we could modify that form in such a way that accomplishes what you want,” Berg said.
Pittman said the county could get the organization formed and let the committee give commissioners advice on what they think the county should do.
Pittman also reviewed the recent chiefs’ meeting and said all departments were represented as well as staff and two commissioners.
Pittman said everyone had a lot of great questions and made some great recommendations.
“We walked away with a better understanding of what they do and what our objective is,” said Pittman.
Pittman said one department, later identified as Sunny View, voted against supporting this concept, but all other departments were on board.
Commissioner Shane Bradley, a former Saluda Fire Chief, said working with a similar committee out of Henderson County really worked well for the Saluda Fire Department. He said the fire departments provide a checklist when they are going to make large purchases. Pittman said a committee in Henderson County has been in operation for at least 10 years.
The committee will consist of seven voting members and one ex officio non-voting member. Three at large members shall be appointed from the unincorporated county community. To be eligible, the applicant must own real property or business personal property that is subject to the fire district tax and must be a full-time resident of Polk County for at least five years.
Three at large members shall be appointed from candidates submitted to the board of county commissioners by the Polk County Fire Chief’s Association. Also, these three members must be subject to the fire district tax and a full-time resident of Polk County for at least five years.
One member shall be appointed from candidates submitted to the board of county commissioners by the six fire and rescue advisory committee members. Another member shall be the Polk County fire marshal, who will serve as a non-voting ex officio member.
The county plans to implement the committee this fiscal year but not have the committee actually present individual fire department budgets to commissioners until next fiscal year. The county plans to adopt the bylaws next and then appoint members to the committee. Commissioners meet again on Monday, Feb. 20, but it was unclear as of press time if the fire and rescue advisory committee bylaws would be on the next agenda.