Firefighters hot over insurance disagreement
Tracy L. Brady, Hartselle Enquirer
The Morgan County Commission lit a fire under volunteer firefighters last week when what they describe as vital insurance needs weren't met.
The commission recently decided to approve only $22,000 of the requested $31,000 in funds for worker's compensation insurance for volunteer firefighters in Morgan County.
According to District 4 Commissioner Stacy George who opposed the commission's decision, firefighters need the additional $9,000 to cover increased insurance premiums for the new fiscal year.
"With 22 departments in the county, it is vital that our volunteer fire fighters are properly insured," George said. "This insurance covers them as firefighters and as citizens. The firefighters should not be expected to use ad valorem tax revenues to cover the insurance."
Once the commission's decision was made, the Morgan County Volunteer Firefighters Association decided it had better start pinching pennies to compensate for the $9,000 loss.
"The association notified the county that it would no longer be renting the Farm Services building on Highway 36 in Hartselle," George said. "They use the building for monthly meetings and pay the county $350 a month to rent the space. By relocating, firefighters will save $4,200 a year in rent. That's about half of the $9,000 they'll need to cover the worker's compensation insurance."
Without a meeting place, George offered the association a meeting place at Danny Huskey Park in Somerville in either the youth center or log cabin-for free.
"The association seemed very excited about my offer," George said. "I am truly concerned about this insurance issue and we'll offer any assistance I can."
The association has not yet made a decision where it will relocate.
According to officials, a federal court order to build a new jail by 2005 has forced the county to withhold budget increases for all county service agencies in preparation for the $10-$15 million project.
Morgan County Volunteer Fire Department Association President John Miller said the association will struggle to make up the difference.
"Ad valorem tax revenues are used to build new facilities, buy equipment, purchase new trucks and fuel, and to train emergency personnel," Miller said. "Our volunteers have worked hard and lowered insurance rates in the communities they serve. The only compensation I can offer them is the assurance they will be taken care of with insurance coverage if they are harmed while serving their communities."
Miller said he understands the commission is also on a budget and he is grateful for the commission's past support, but he said the right thing for the commission to do would be to find the money to fund the firefighter's insurance.
"Morgan County Volunteer Firefighters are the best stewards of tax payer money I've ever seen," Miller said. "With or without the commission's support, we will continue to do the same great job for the communities. All we have ever asked the county to do is pay this insurance. It really is a small sum to pay to ensure the safety of our people."
Miller said the association did not make the decision to move from the county building based on the commission's lack of support.
"Our kitty is about gone," Miller said. "However, I am not going to let our volunteers go without insurance and I don't care how many pancakes I have to flip to make that happen."
The association serves all unincorporated areas of Morgan County. As of Sept. 30, the volunteer firefighters have responded to 183 brush fires over 192 acres of land, 116 structure fires, 77 vehicle fires, 1, 315 emergency medical calls, and 231 miscellaneous incident calls.