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Carthage Council Awaits Fire Records
November 12, 2008 - As the time to renew the town’s contract for fire protection services nears, some members of the Carthage Town Council say the Carthage Volunteer Fire Department is not cooperating with the town’s requests for information about the department.
At last Wednesday’s regular monthly council meeting, Council President Rick Bush said the town has asked the CVFD for copies of financial records for the past couple of years. However, he said there has been no response to the town’s request.
“We want them held accountable just like we are,” Bush said. Because local tax dollars from the town and from Ripley Township serve as the CVFD’s largest source of revenue, he said he thought the department needs to be able and willing to show how those public dollars are being spent.
Chuck Todd, the town’s attorney, told the council the fire department is an independent entity, likely with non-profit status, that contracts with the town. However, while it may not be a public agency like the town or other, non-volunteer fire departments, Todd said some of the CVFD’s records may be public records under state statute; he said he would research the issue.
Bush said the town is not happy with the CVFD’s practice of filling residential swimming pools with water obtained from the town. He said the CVFD charges homeowners for this service, but that the fire department does not presently pay the town for the water.
Council member Jack Taylor said he had spoken with the CVFD’s Mike Erwin a couple of times about the council’s concerns and the need to work out contractual issues. He said these discussions seemed, however, to be going nowhere.
Bush said he thought the CVFD was ignoring the town because they want the contract with the town to simply “roll over” at the start of 2009, keeping the same terms that have been in place since 2006. Todd, who drafted the contract now in effect, said he did not recall there being a roll over provision in the agreement, but said he would check, and that he would also send a letter to CVFD Chief Boyd Duncan about the council’s concerns.
Although the CVFD had been asked to have representatives at last week’s council meeting, no one from the department attended. Their nonattendance is consistent with the department’s normal practice of not having a representative at the council’s regular monthly meetings to give reports and updates on the CVFD.
In other business, the council reheld the public hearing on the town’s proposed budget for 2009 at the beginning of last week’s meeting. Clerk-Treasurer Linda McMahan said a new hearing was needed because budget consultants working with the town had not properly advertised the budget and the first hearing in a newspaper, as required by law. There were no public comments offered on the budget, the adoption of which will be put to a council vote during a special public meeting on Nov. 19.
Council members disagreed on the decision to give a town employee, who was not named, a write up with respect to an undisclosed violation of the town’s employee handbook. Council member Bill Armstrong said he thought this decision, on which Bush said he and two other council members, Vice President Wanda Henderson and Doris Wyatt, had agreed in a private executive session held in October, should have been voted on in a public meeting.
Bush said that since it was a personnel matter dealt with in executive session, there was no need to take a public vote on the matter. Todd, however, said it depends on what the employee handbook says about how write ups are to be handled, adding that he would need more information before he could advise them if they needed to vote during a public meeting. He asked Bush to speak with him privately and give him more details after the meeting.
The council also heard briefly at last week’s meeting from an engineer and a grant coordinator for the town’s recent $3.1 million water utility improvement project. The council approved the latest payment requests for work on the project, $133,192.39 to two of the three contractors, $1,010.29 to attorney Todd, and $22,723.42 to engineering firm Hannum Wagle & Cline. Todd told the council he expects his total fees on the project to be about 15 percent less than originally estimated.
Grant coordinator Trena Carter advised the council that there a few issues regarding easements that still need to be cleared up, including the need for a couple of appraisals. She also said she will need a letter from Todd explaining why the town had initially chosen a grant coordinator who was more expensive than her firm. Bush and McMahan both said the town’s original choice for grant coordinator, Chuck Taylor, had been made because he and his wife were already familiar with the project from work they had done on a grant application for the project. The town’s switch to Carter’s firm, which had initially been the town’s second choice, was made following Taylor’s recent death.
Carthage resident Dick Moore, who claims his garage was damaged when the town’s old water tower overflowed, asked the council what the town planned to do. Todd told the council that Moore should submit a written complaint detailing what happened, and that the town should forward that to their insurer.
Todd gave the council a template of a proposed animal control ordinance to review before the council’s December meeting. He also said he would prepare and send the council information on steps that must be taken before property can be voluntarily annexed into town.
The Carthage Town Council’s next meeting will be a special meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 5 p.m. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at Carthage Town Hall, 6 W. First St.
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