Volunteer firefighters accept offer on finances

HOPE — A memorandum of understanding that will funnel money to the Hope Volunteer Fire Department has been accepted by the firefighters.

In a 9-1 vote that bows to a number of restrictions set by the Hope Town Council, firefighters Thursday night agreed to submit expenses of up to $51,750 that the department has paid since Jan. 1.

“We don’t have much of a choice,” firefighter Adam Mathis said.

Beginning Monday, when the council meets to ratify the agreement, department officials can begin to submit up to $5,750 monthly for reimbursement.

However, all claims must be recommended by Hope Clerk-Treasurer Diane Burton and be individually approved by the council.

The department has been providing fire protection services since Jan. 1 without a contract and has not received money from the town since December.

Its major source of income this year has been a $50,000 contract with the Hawcreek Township trustee’s office, fire officials said.

While the council is willing to pay up to $69,000 for this year’s expenses, town leaders say they are not willing to sign a formal contract until litigation with a Madison-based construction firm is resolved.

Filed in December by JHS Construction and Fueling LLC, the lawsuit claims the fire department owes the firm $189,000 for work already done on a new fire station.

Town council members says they fear the department might go out of business if it loses the lawsuit, which is why they are reluctant to sign a standard contract at this time.

The agreement approved by firefighters Thursday stipulates that no money from the town can be spent on anything related to the litigation or the unfinished fire station.

But firefighters claim the construction company engaged in unauthorized work after being told the department had run out of money for the project, Hope Fire Chief Bruce Neal said.

Former department treasurer Edwin Stone asked his fellow firefighters to reject the memorandum and instead send a contract proposal back to the town council. He claimed elected officials are already assuming the firefighters will lose the lawsuit and refuse to recognize the department as a private, nonprofit organization.

“They are trying to micromanage us and tell us how to spend our money,” said Stone, who also claims the department is being unfairly scrutinized compared with other Hope area nonprofits.

Stone’s motion was supported by one of the 12 voting firefighters present.

“The town is not going to negotiate a contract, so if we vote (the memorandum) down, we’re out of business,” said veteran firefighter Ken Chandler, who expressed hope that acceptance of the agreement will place the department in a position to negotiate when the lawsuit is settled, as well as secure community support.

“The only ones who suffer (by rejecting the agreement) is the community,” said Mathis, who said he understood the council’s reasons for not wanting a contract at this time.

After Mathis made the motion to accept the agreement, only Stone voted against it.

Two firefighters present chose not to vote. Also at the meeting were two young cadets, who are not allowed to vote.

When the first proposed agreement was considered in early June, only three firefighters voted — all against it. The other firefighters chose not to vote at the time, which meant they were automatically listed as “no” votes in the tally, according to department bylaws.

Although the second agreement contains most of the same restrictions, it does contain new provisions that allow the department to use town money to pay limited legal fees not associated with the new fire station.

Another new provision provides reimbursement for many expenses, including accounting fees, that have already been paid this year.

The Hope Town Council is expected to ratify the agreement when it meets in regular session at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

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Major provisions of the memorandum of understanding between the Town of Hope and the Hope Volunteer Fire Department include:

  • A maximum of $51,750 to be paid for expense claims incurred from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 of this year.
  • Effective this month, the town will begin paying monthly claims of no more than $5,750 a month.
  • The agreement shall remain in force until the pending legal matter involving the department is resolved. When the case has been settled, contract negotiations will begin.
  • The town will pay utilities, building expenses, insurance, taxes, legal fees (maximum of $3,000 annually), and office equipment expenses for the current Harrison Street fire station only.
  • Other qualified expenses include supplies, accounting fees, fire equipment, fuel, training, clothing, vehicle repairs, fire prevention and promotion.

The town will not make payments on any expenses associated with the uncompleted new fire station at South and Aiken streets, including outstanding loans or mortgages.

All claims must be recommended for payment by the clerk-treasurer and must be individually approved by the town council.  

The town will assist the fire department with grant preparation services and promote of department fundraising activities.