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Fire Chiefs Confront JPs Over Budget Cuts

The Chiefs of 16 volunteer fire departments in Logan County met with five Justices of the Peace for 90 minutes last week about the decision by JPs to cut funding for fire departments in the 2014 budget.

The meeting took place at the Office of Emergency Services in Paris.

In addition to cutting funding for fire departments, the Quorum Court also cut funding to senior citizens centers in Paris and Booneville and eliminated funding for Boys and Girls Clubs in Paris and Booneville from the budget. Those measures were taken to free up money so that the county could hire an additional four jailers for the Logan County Detention Center. A recent state inspection of the jail cited a lack of adequate security and the state’s jail review board gave the county one year to address concerns raised in the report.

Justices of the Peace on hand were Eddye Finney, Denny Stone, Bob Kreps, Lindel Parsons and Mike Schluterman. Magazine Police Chief Boyd Hicks, an announced candidate for Logan County Sheriff in next year’s election, was also on hand.

Not all funding given to fire departments was cut. Each department will still get enough money to purchase insurance on vehicles, buildings and contents. That amount varies by department.

Kim Cox, of the Sugar Grove Volunteer Fire Department and President of the Logan County Fire Association, said the meeting got “tense.”

“The fire departments I’ve talked to said these cuts represent up to one-third of their operating budgets,” Cox said. “It got a little bit tense. We had some heated discussions.”

One question JPs were asked was why they didn’t raise additional money by raising the county’s operating millage rate. Legally, the Quorum Court can raise the operating millage to 5 mills. In Logan County it is now 3 mills. The rate can only be raised in November. In November, JPs went back-and-forth on the operating millage, voting 12 times before leaving it the same.

“Thirty-two 0f the state’s 75 counties charge an operating millage below five mills,” Cox said.

“Everybody’s told us they didn’t want a millage rate increase,” JP Mike Schluterman said. “So, our thinking was let’s wait and see.”

“They didn’t want to hit the public with a rate increase but now, some departments are looking at membership rate increases or cuts in services,” Cox said. “They also told us they had to cut funding and the places they cut were the only places they could find to cut. That didn’t go over too well. At that point there were some fire chiefs who said they were thinking about running for JP.”

Some fire chiefs entered the meeting knowing how it would go.

“It went about like I thought it would,” said Kyle Carter, Chief of the Subiaco Volunteer Fire Department. “I knew what was going to happen. The bottom line is the county doesn’t have any money. I don’t know what anybody can do about it.

“We’ll miss the money, no doubt,” Carter said. “I never wanted to rely on county money anyway because it can be cut and now it has been. At least the county is still paying the insurance. I can live with that, for now.”

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