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Commission looks into funding for volunteer fire departments

The County Commission listened to a proposal of a new fee to benefit the Crenshaw County Volunteer Firefighters’ Association at Monday’s meeting.

“Fire and rescue in the county are hurting, so I’d like for you to consider this act,” said Stephen Wilson, president of the association.

The proposed act would put a $35 fee in place for each building, residence or structure to be paid with property taxes.

Coffee County enacted a similar act, and the proposed Crenshaw County bill was based on that act.
“There are a few differences,” Wilson said.

Crenshaw County Revenue Commissioner Sherry McSwean was present at the meeting, and she had previously reviewed the bill and offered her input.

“I looked at it, and I have a lot of questions,” she said. “The wording is ambiguous in a lot of places. There are quotes where it states a lot of regulations and then it will say the opposite.”

“I called the Coffee County Revenue Commissioner, and the consensus is that I’d like to discuss it further and maybe work a few kinks out,” she said. “It has things that need to be addressed.”

Wilson said the act is projected to generate between $162,000 and $190,000, and McSwean agreed that her calculations estimated around $172,000.

One major question would be how the fee would be distributed.

Wilson said that the current bill distributes the funds on the basis of number of structures served by the departments — the fire departments covering more structures would get more of the funds.

Commissioner Merrill Sport pointed out that the fire departments that have the most structures, such as Luverne and Brantley, are not the ones that are most in need of funding and that a different system of distributing the funds is needed.

“I think there are issues that have to be worked through to help the little ones,” Sport said.

Time is also a consideration.

Because of the way Alabama’s state constitution is set up, all local bills have to be passed by the state legislation before they can be voted on by the county.

“Rep. Charles Newton said that he would need something by April 1,” Wilson said. That would allow the bill to be on the ballot for the November election.

The general consensus was that the bill needs to be discussed thoroughly before making a recommendation to the legislature.

A meeting to discuss the proposal in-depth has been set for Thursday afternoon.

The meeting is scheduled for 4:00 p.m., and if election materials are still being stored in the Commissioner’s courtroom, the meeting will take place in the small courtroom on the same floor across the hall.

In other business, the Commission discussed the state’s road and bridge grant project presented by County Engineer Benjie Sanders two weeks ago.

Sanders presented a list of 10 proposed bridges that would be eligible for replacement.

Sanders said that he feels like the county has a good chance to get all 10 projects funded, and that the county will only have to provide a 20 percent match in funds for the grants.

The Commission approved for Sanders to apply for all 10 projects.

The Commission also heard from David Richburg, AFLAC agent, who discussed the county’s change in who administers its insurance cafeteria plan.

Over the last several months, the Commission named the Sexton Agency as the administrator of its insurance plans for employees to replace Liberty National, but Richburg said he has been the administrator of the plan for years, not Liberty National.

“To rectify this, you need to put it back where it’s supposed to be,” he said.

Members of the Commission said that they were under the impression that Liberty National administered the cafeteria plan, and will look into the situation.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for March 26, but a special meeting will be held Thursday, March 15 at 4 p.m.