How to dispense the money designated in the 2011 SPLOST for fire equipment and/or facilities for the local volunteer fire departments has been a topic of discussion for at least the last three years, but the Upson County Board of Commission is now one step closer to making the dispensing of the funds a reality. After much discussion over the last few weeks on what they could legally do, the board decided at their September 8 meeting to divide the money up equally for each department and have them submit a list of items they wish to purchase with their share of the funds.
The items that qualify for capital outlay, as defined by Georgia law, will be approved for purchase and will be owned by Upson County. The equipment will be leased to the VFDs for one dollar per year for 10 years; at that time the VFD will obtain ownership of the equipment. County Manager Jim Wheeless stated any requested items the board considers to be questionable as capital outlay projects will be directed to the County Manager and the County Auditor for determination as to whether these expenditures will be properly chargeable to the county’s asset account.
At this time, the board does not know the exact amount of funding that will be given to the VFDs as the SPLOST is collecting less money than projected. The amount designated on the ballot was $500,000, however, Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston stated at a recent meeting collections on the SPLOST are down by about six percent. The county is projecting to collect around $470,000 out of the original $500,000 and the board has approved spending up to $100,000 of that money already for items the departments were in dire need of. County Manager Jim Wheeless stated $63,000 has been spent on extrication equipment for Salem VFD, Lincoln Park VFD, Rock Hill VFD and Yatesville VFD, as Northside VFD and Thurston VFD already had useable equipment.
The county has also designated money to go for radio equipment for all VFDs to ensure all departments can communicate with each other. Commissioner Ralph Ellington stated RCE of Macon is still working on an estimate for the equipment and should have something to the board in the next two weeks.
Wheeless stated once the 2011 SPLOST ends on June 30, 2016; the county has five years to expend the money on the designated projects. He will be sending a letter to all the chiefs of the VFDs soon with an estimate of how much money they all will be receiving.
Commissioner Ellington has worked diligently with the VFDs on the matter and at the close of the meeting; he stated he had a letter he would like to read pertaining to his feelings on the issue.
“I was elected three years ago to commission District 3 of Upson County. I was honored with the confidence the community placed in me and I am still honored to serve today. I feel it is my responsibility as a leader of this community to try to bring forth some closure of providing funds for the volunteer fire departments. I’d like to say I think we have taken a step in this letter (to be sent to the VFDs) towards doing that.
“The community overwhelmingly supported this endeavor in the passing of the 2011 SPLOST. Since that day we have had issues with dispensing the funds and communications on when, how, who, what and why the money should be spent. As commissioners we all know the focus should be on the vision of our county’s future. We should keep an open mind, maintain high ethical standards and know the issues we are facing as the board, know our constituents and the people we work with. Focus on what’s best for our country, be honest with the public, the media and other officials and be able to separate our emotions from our responsibilities.
“I have seen over and over again, stumbling blocks in regard to dispensing these funds to the volunteer fire departments. The SPLOST funds are needed for equipment to keep them and out community safe. I have seen efforts be made to try to prevent those trying to make this a reality. Its time these efforts stop.
“I challenge each of us as board members, not to allow stumbling blocks to develop in this area. If they occur, we need to be the leaders this community has chosen us to be and make this a reality to truly support our volunteers.”
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1