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Asking for fire funding: Norton Branch speaks to court

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 Norton Branch Fire Department wants the county to help them pay for vehicle repairs and maintenance or, according to chief Jason Gillum, they may not have any volunteers left. Gillum approached fiscal court this week asking for additional funding, citing a recent move by the county to help Grayson and Olive Hill fund paid fire staff. 

That funding was based, in part, on the number of mutual aid calls the city departments respond to outside of city limits and the fact that paid staff helps those departments respond to those calls when other volunteer staffs can’t muster enough folks to handle a situation. 

Gillum said they didn’t begrudge those departments the paid staff, but said that in number of runs the Norton Branch department was “neck in neck” with the two cities. 

Malone explained that there was a difference in what Norton Branch and the cities had asked for, however. Neither city asked for additional funding for equipment. They requested additional funding for staff. He said he wasn’t opposed to looking at changing the current funding distribution model based on the number of calls answered, or leaving current funding as is and basing any extra future funding on response numbers. But, he said, he felt the fire departments needed to work together to come up with a plan they all found equitable for splitting those funds. 

Gillum told Malone he was skeptical that the different volunteer departments could reach a consensus, explaining that his experience told him each chief would be looking out for his own department rather than looking at what was best for the county as a whole. 

He said his staff was “old and stubborn” and that they felt disrespected when the county gave funds above and beyond the normal split to the two municipalities. He said the attitude among some volunteers was to quit and “let Grayson and Olive Hill handle them all” since they were receiving more funding. He said it wouldn’t matter if the county came back with “a million dollars” after the next fiscal year, if some of those men moved on by then they wouldn’t come back, and the department would lose the benefit of years of firefighting experience and technical expertise. 

“It’s not an ego thing, but it hurts,” Gillum said, for his men to see money granted to the two cities when his staff pays out of pocket for gas and equipment. 

“Staffing is awesome, but (funding) needs to be (distributed) across the board,” Gillum told Malone. 

Malone said he wasn’t sure what the answer was, but that he was open to hearing suggestions for improving the funding split. 

“I don’t know that we can do what everyone wants us to do, but I think we can do better,” Malone said. 

In other action the court heard public comments from the property owner along Pottery Lane regarding the county’s move to keep that road in the county road system after public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of doing so. The property owner, who was not at the public hearing, said he found it unfair that the desires of those who say they use the road outweighed the concerns of the property owner whose land was split by the road. He advised the court that he would be seeking additional legal advice to force the road out of the county system and return it to private hands. 

The court also moved to begin the process of removing a portion of Sexton Lane from the county road system, and continued the process of removing portions of Pleasant Valley Drive and Horseshoe Drive from the county road system, setting those hearing for the next public meeting of fiscal court. 

The court also accepted the clerk’s quarterly report, approved the 2020 county tax settlement and unmined coal tax settlement, approved claims and transfers, accepted department reports, approved a request to lease two tri-axle trucks, a roll back truck, and a road tractor for the road department, and heard updates on 911 mapping, which is 90 percent complete. 

E911 director Joe Lambert also advised the county of a plan to offer house marker signs to homes where the mailboxes are not in front of the homes, to make it easier for first responders to locate a property. The signs would be distributed at costs. 

The court also moved to adopt their hazardous materials ordinance on second reading, and to enter into the first reading of an amendment to that ordinance. That new amendment increases the equipment and personnel costs based on increasing market values. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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