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Gentleman’s agreement needs revisited

My Opinion
Ross Schulz, Staff Writer

Now that the $500,000 has been awarded for fire department improvements in Elizabeth and the lengthy arguments and discussions (cussin’ and discussin’) seem to be behind the Harrison County Council, it would be in the council’s best interested to revisit the gentleman’s agreement the county has adhered to for many years.
The gentleman’s agreement goes something like this: the county will allocate $500,000 per year (or $1 million every two years) for fire service improvements, equipment, fire stations, etc., and the fire chiefs’ association will decide who needs what, and who needs it now, and bring it before the council each year for approval.
The agreement was made because, for one, county council members are not in a position to determine what is needed and what’s not needed by the nine county volunteer fire departments. Secondly, before the agreement was in place, it was basically a first-come, first-served method of receiving riverboat gaming revenue for fire departments. If a department came before the board in January with a seemingly great need, they’d most likely get the funding. A department with a need in July, August or September or later, when much of the gaming funds had already been allotted, would be out of luck.
The gentleman’s agreement was a good idea, because it took the burden off the councilmen and women.
But, it also came with the understanding that the fire chiefs’ association would come up with a plan that would satisfy everyone’s needs.
Whether that has happened or not has been called into question at least a couple times during recent public meetings.
When it comes to voting who gets funding, each of the nine chiefs, or departments, have a vote. As was pointed out in a public meeting earlier this year, that’s only two votes north of Interstate 64 and seven south.
One would think the chiefs could get along and come up with a plan to help the entire county, and it certainly seemed liked they can and have.
But some in the north, particularly the Blue River Township area, which is served by Ramsey Volunteer Fire Dept., think they’ve been ignored.
The county council also has twice paid for an outside firm to study the county’s fire departments’ needs and assess what should be done about future spending.
So, the council either needs to follow that assessment or trust the fire chiefs’ association, but a mixture of both isn’t the answer.
Another aspect the council needs to revisit is the amount of money allocated each year.
Former Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes is on record, when the gentleman’s agreement was set, as saying the $500,000 will not be enough to adequately keep top-notch fire service in the county. It appears that’s the case this year, with not only the approved $500,000 needed in Elizabeth, but also needs in Blue River Township as well as those of the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Dept.
I’m sure, with the ever-existing fear of dwindling riverboat gaming funds, there’s a case to be made for less money spent each year.
All these issues should be on the table and settled before next year, or else the uncertainly and lack of clarity will continue.