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Fanning Springs, which straddles Levy and Gilchrist counties, made its case for more fire money in the 2013-2014 Levy County budget and got a compromise.
The Levy County Commission, in a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 5, to tentatively approve the budget and property tax millage, agreed to give the city a maximum of $1,000 to fix its fire boat provided it also gets the city and Gilchrist County to chip in a similar amount.
Fanning Springs City Councilman Bob Kerr, who oversees the city's fire department, made his case to the commission even though the department had indicated it could make do with the same amount of money it received last year from Levy – $76,386. The department is also supported by the city – $70,000, and Gilchrist County – $28,964.
Kerr said the department originally intended to make do with the same amount of money, but then he sat in on the commission's regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and saw Chiefland officials who missed the budget filing deadline for fire departments for various reasons get an increase to keep it even with Williston and a one-time 6 percent appropriation for equipment and materials.
“I am being punished I think for using the chain of command,” Kerr said.
He later said, “So I am looking to get a 6 percent bump which you gave.”
Kerr told the commission the watercraft is not operational and it will cost between $2,000 and $3,000 to get it running. He said the department's brush truck was also experiencing problems and would require repairs.
“We're a small fire unit but we do a lot,” Kerr said. He said the department handles 650 calls per year. “Our call load in Levy is 50-55 percent.” His department has handled 63 calls this month with 29 of them in unincorporated Levy County.
Kerr said in the last 90 days his department has been in County Fire District 7 – which the county contracts for coverage with the City of Chiefland Fire Rescue – on calls 30 times.
Kerr said his department does not mind going into District 7. “We don't mind getting out there and doing our thing. We've got a really good group.”
County Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) said, “I'd like to start by saying this: What you heard Tuesday was a little different than normal.” Stevens went on to explain that the Williston, South Levy and Cedar Key fire chiefs had asked County Department of Public Safety Director and Fire Chief David Knowles for an increase in their budgets in time for the deadline.
“What this board done is we gave 'em a one-time increase for emergency stuff,” Stevens said. “When the City of Cedar Key submitted something in writing they asked to share cost for a person.”
Stevens said, “I personally didn't think that was appropriate for this board to share the cost for a person when the board is contracted with them for a service.”
The commission approved asking Cedar Key to shuffle items in the budget to cover the wages of the firefighter and the county would give them money for equipment and materials.
“Williston and Cedar Key, when they got their increase, did submit it in writing and got it in in time,” Stevens said. “I don't know the feeling of the board but you have gone above and beyond going into Chiefland's District.”
Kerr said when his department submitted its budget at the deadline, “We did put an addendum on there that if anything were to come along” they would be back for money.
“I didn't go around (Knowles) back and come to you.” Kerr said. “If I have a problem I go to Chief Knowles. I'm the kind of guy I want to work with my chief.”
Kerr's comments were in contrast to those made by Chiefland Fire Chief James Harris and Vice Mayor Teresa Barron. Barron has said in at least one public meeting that Knowles cannot answer questions saying he cannot speak for the commission and is not honest.
Stevens said if the board wanted to give Kerr money he would not be against it and he understood the need for Fanning Springs to have a fire boat as the city sits on the river and the boat has a water cannon and a pump that can be used to pump river water for onshore fires. It also has a litter for rescues.
Comission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) asked if the cost of the repairs could be shared.
“Could we do that? We might have some discretionary finds and keep you up and running. Especially since the majority of our calls is in your contracted area.”
Kerr said it could be done and Fanning Springs Mayor Cheryl Nekola, who attended the budget hearing said the city would be agreeable.
Commissioner Mike Joyner (R-District 3) made the motion to provide up to $1,000 for the repairs provided the city and Gilchrist also shouldered a third each, seconded by Stevens. The appropriation passed unanimously.
Nekola closed the discussion with a heartfelt thank you. “I want to thank you all for cooperating with us and we really enjoy working with Chief Knowles.”