(Willow Springs) – Despite a rocky past, the Willow Springs Rural and Eleven Point Fire Departments may merge and a fire protection district covering both rural districts and the city of Willow Springs may be implemented in the near future.
This idea came forward after a lengthy discussion at the Willow Springs Board of Aldermen meeting Thursday evening.
WHEMER DISCUSSES PROBLEM, PRESENTS POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Lou Whemer, who was speaking on behalf of the Willow Springs Rural Fire Protection Association, told the Board of Aldermen that the district is not collecting dues the way they used to, to the tune of a roughly $48,000 deficit last year. Whemer told the Board that many in the rural area weren’t paying the $50 per year protection charge to either district, but at the same time, they can’t let someone’s property burn down because they didn’t pay the fee. He and the FPA were looking for what he called a “fair solution”, because they didn’t believe that city residents should pay the cost for those getting rural service, and vice versa.
Whemer told the Board of Aldermen that three solutions were proposed by the FPA: that the two rural districts continue to function as-is and attempt to get more subscriptions, which seemed unlikely; that a fire protection district is formed and, with voter approval, a tax is collected for both rural districts separately; or end the two separate districts and form one large rural district. Whemer said that a number of issues would come up if the two districts merge, like figuring out needed gear and vehicles, and which district would absorb the other. It was also proposed that both department fire boards dissolve, and a new one be formed.
WORKERS SPEAK OUT
A man who works for the Eleven Point department who was at the meeting spoke up, saying that their frequently held Bingo games barely kept the department afloat. He believed the two departments should merge, since, as he put it, they “work together most of the time anyway”, and that “the (subscription) numbers aren’t getting any better”.
Another man, who formerly worked for the city, also spoke up, saying that he was for a tax-based fire protection district covering the city and rural districts, because he believed the fire departments have a duty to protect the citizens. He continued, saying that, despite the designation of being part of the city, Eleven Point or Willow Rural departments, they’re all residents of Willow Springs and should all work together to help each other. His passion and statement was met with a round of applause.
CITY TO DECIDE INVOLVMENT
City attorney Steve Privette told the Board of Aldermen that the city would need to decide if they want to be involved in a “city-wide” fire tax district. He added that, if a city-wide district was formed, the lowering of the ISO, or the risk factor rating for insurance purposes, and the elimination of the $48,000 in missing fees would save residents in all districts more money than they would spend through the new tax.
It was also suggested that, if approved by voters, the new fire protection district would only serve residents in Howell County, due to the cost and logistics of running an election in surrounding counties served by the rural departments.
Despite the outcome, both rural districts and the Board of Aldermen agreed: something needs to be done. And soon.
The council decided to move the issue to next month’s meeting to have time to fully explore the issue and so they could spend more time on the matter, rather than the limited time given.