Changes made to fire enhancement fund

Terry RogersHeadlines, Milford Headline Story, Police & Fire

Milford City Council approved changes to the Fire Enhancement Fund at a recent meeting

At a recent meeting, Milford City Council agreed to change the name of what was the Carlisle Fire Company Enhancement Fund to the Fire Enhancement Fund. The change was to reflect current fire service districts in Milford as there are now developments that are in Houston Fire Company district as well as one proposed that will be in the Ellendale Fire Company district. In addition, council approved wording that would give them the discretion to use the funds for public safety measures. During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Carlisle Fire Company Tor Hazzard and Fire Chief Shawn Hinton expressed some concerns regarding the fund changes.

“The Carlisle Fire Company Enhancement Fund was originated from past president of the Carlisle Fire Company Marvin Sharp and former city manager Richard Carmean.” Hazzard said. “The intention of this fund was for Carlisle Fire Company to have the funds to purchase equipment, right now, we are purchasing handsets for the building as an example, plus building additions, additional storage rehab in our current facility or for the potential need of a future substation. The agreement was the city hold the funds in its accounts to collect the interest of that money collected by which both original parties agreed on.”

Chief Hinton explained that the company was not opposed to changing the name of the fund nor were they suggesting Houston and Ellendale should not receive their portion of the funds, but that they wanted clarity on the verbiage regarding public safety equipment. Peggy Schmidt, a resident of Milford also spoke prior to council’s discussion about the fund.

“I am a fairly recent resident and have been here a little over five years. And one of the things that I think is your responsibility is ensuring the safety of the residents of Milford and our property. And it looks like this is one of the things you’re trying to do in this this meeting tonight and I would like to express some concerns related to the Milford, the Fire Company,” Schmidt said. “In 2020, their total revenue was $2,338,104 and their expenses were $1,426,223. Which means that they had essentially a profit $912,681. So, I don’t think the fire department is in as big of a financial bind as we are sometimes led to believe. They also have about $7 million in publicly traded investments. This is all public information that is available from IRS from their tax filings. With this in mind and realizing that they are having problems with recruitment and with their response times according to the Chief’s interview this week with the news, I’m concerned about our safety, and I understand that other fire departments are having to come and protect us and to sometimes respond to fires in our town. And we need a way, and it looks like you’re trying to address that, to ensure that the equipment is available to the responders that are actually coming. And I appreciate that very much. But I also hope you are thinking about how to be fiscally responsible to the people of Milford and at the same time, ensure an ongoing fire safety program that is actually responsive to our needs.”

City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that the change to the ordinance would better clarify council’s role with the fund. He also stated that the verbiage added was not technically needed as council has always had the ability to use the enhancement funds for fire safety purposes. He explained that water towers could be deemed fire safety equipment, but the town actually pays for those out of public works. Councilman Dan Marabello asked if Ellendale and Houston get funds from their towns through building permits as the enhancement fund is a fee of 0.25 percent added to building permits issued in Milford.

“Not that I am aware of,” Whitfield said. “Most of our Carlisle fire district actually lies outside the city. They do get money from Kent and Sussex County, but they don’t get enhancement money from Kent or Sussex County.” Whitfield explained that the fund will be tracked so that Houston and Ellendale will only get the percentage of building permits that are issued for their fire district.

Councilman Jason James pointed out the fifth line of the ordinance, asking if council already had that power. Hazzard again explained the concerns the fire company had with the verbiage.

“So, the verbiage. Our main understanding is, and we have no problem after bringing this up as a company with the exception of five that Councilman James just brought up. And let me just read it verbatim. ‘The city council at its at its sole discretion may utilize the funds for any public safety purpose it deems so reasonable,’” Hazzard said. “So, to clarify further my previous point that the Carlisle Fire Company, our company enhancement fund, that’s what is currently named the Carlisle Fire Company Enhancement Fund was put in place and developed by the names that I mentioned earlier, our past president Marvin Sharp and former city manager Dickie Carmean to supply and give extra funding to the fire department for needs, building additions, a future substation, and so on. So, with the verbiage that it reads that basically says without any input from the fire company that council can use that money. So, like for sirens. I know we’re not supposed to talk about fire sirens or hydrants, so forth. So that’s the Fire Company stance on that. Can you elaborate on the reference to the fire safety as well.”

Chief Hinton commented that the company understands the need for public safety items like sirens and the maintenance of those items, but they simply wanted more clarity as to what is considered public safety under council’s definition. During an additional public hearing specifically related to the change of the ordinance, Nadia Zychal pointed out that this fund was designed for public safety.

“Since this Fund was created to maintain and to expand our safety infrastructure, overall safety infrastructure, our town has grown. Its needs have expanded, our footprint has grown. Our population has grown exponentially. And it is the responsibility of the city and of the fire department that it serves to make sure that we have adequate equipment and infrastructure that serves them to be able to do their job to the best of their ability,” Zychal said. “I see no problem with just codifying this fund as a general fund for the city for this infrastructure. Since it is served by more than one fire department, since it has grown, to be able to just let the ink dry, clean up the verbiage and let it be clear that the funds are available for city council to appropriate, as needed without having to have a papal bull and 15 layers of bureaucracy and 75 meetings later and not have something done. Efficiency is also a safety concern.”

Councilman James then asked again if the new verbiage allowing council the ability to use the funds for public safety were new powers given to council or were powers that already existed. Whitfield explained that these were powers council already had, but that the verbiage made the powers more explicit. Councilman James also confirmed that any expenditures from the fund had to be related to public safety.

“Correct, if you collect money for a particular purpose, if you use it for anything else other than that purpose, you stand the risk of being challenged by those who have paid into that fund.”

Councilman Mike Boyle pointed out that the fire chief mentioned fire hydrants and reminded council that those are paid for out of public works as well, not the enhancement fund. He also pointed out that this fund was not being used to relieve pressure on another area of the budget.

“And just to restate something Councilman James said,” Councilman Andy Fulton said. “WE already had the ability to spend it on a fire hydrant or something else, even though it wasn’t written before, we still have that ability, so all we are doing is stating the obvious.”

The ordinance change passed unanimously.



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