, 2014

Kilmarnock firemen get
new town council support

by Audrey Thomasson

KILMARNOCK—It was Christmas in June for the Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) Monday when the town council inserted a line item in the 2013-14 budget that gives the department $30,000 in support. The budget takes affect July 1.

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In addition, councilman Howard Straughan, chairman of the town finance committee, announced plans to have the town match Northumberland County’s contribution of $39,000 in the coming years without firemen having to make annual requests.

A motion to give the firemen $30,000 passed 6-0. A second motion on a reduction of $10,000 in the “contributions” category passed 5-1, with councilman William Smith opposed. The change resulted in a net increase in the town’s budget of $20,000, raising it to $2,954,462.

Council approved the amended budget on a split vote, 4-2, with councilmen Smith and Shawn Donahue voting against. Both stated their opposition was based on the town paying $729,000 for the new town hall property without obtaining an appraisal.

Mayor Raymond Booth said he applauded the decision to make a generous contribution to the fire department.

KVFD officer Tom Jones thanked the council for its support.

Straughan’s motion for the $30,000 contribution is $5,000 higher than what the administration and finance committee recommended at its June 6 meeting. In addition, his promise of a “match” was not part of the committee’s recommendation.

After the council meeting, Straughan said he was acting on behalf of a subcommittee he appointed and tasked with looking into the town’s past and future support of KVFD. He said the subcommittee included councilwoman Mae Umphlett, town manager Tom Saunders and assistant town manager Susan Cockrell.

According to Umphlett, the sub-committee met June 13.

While there was no advance public notification of the meeting, technically there is no legal obligation to do so since fewer than three council members are on the subcommittee, said town attorney Chris Stamm.

During the June 6 administration and finance committee meeting, members Smith, Straughan and Rebecca Nunn voted to recommend to council that a committee be formed to include a cross section of officials in the county. They also requested that Kilmarnock planning commission member Les Spivey be included since he originally rallied for annual funding and requested a thorough study on how to best support the volunteer firefighters.

“We didn’t have time”; the change needed to be made before the budget vote, Straughan said about his decision to go beyond the committee’s recommendation. It was based on the fact the town had been remiss in its support of KVFD over the past years, he added.

But Straughan could not provide any specifics. He did not disagree that adjustments could have been made to the budget during the course of the year and not pushed in at the last minute.

“Based on the actions last night, there’s no reason to have committee meetings,” Smith said about Staughan’s actions. “The whole process was so rushed, it was not well thought through... At the end of the day, I don’t understand the need for the rush.”

According to county administrator Frank Pleva, each year KVFD receives $7,314 in state fire program funds which pass through the county treasurer, another $8,000 in state funds which pass through the town of Kilmarnock, and $75,000 in support from the county. County funding is expected to increase to $83,000 if supervisors approve the proposed budget on June 27.

The fire department must raise additional funds from the community for operations, maintenance and building repairs, and to replace aging equipment including fire trucks which cost upwards of $1 million. Due to the recession, members report donations and recruitment are down. Because they are all volunteers, members say they must spend so much time fundraising, they have little time to train or spend with their families.

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