Grimes County firefighters worried about county funding changes

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ANDERSON, Tex. (KBTX) - Volunteer firefighters in Grimes County are worried about a change in how they're funded.

As county commissioners look at the upcoming fiscal year, they plan to budget for their area fire departments based on need. In the past, everyone had been part of the same contract.

Volunteer firefighters from across Grimes County packed commissioners court Monday to voice concerns.

"Chief, I'm not suggesting that the departments fend for themselves but what I am suggesting is that we as a commissioners court have to have accountability for how those tax dollars are being spent," said Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth.

Previously, the county had contributed around half a million dollars annually to its fire departments. They have eight in the county that are volunteer departments, as well as Navasota, which has volunteers and some paid positions. Now, the county wants to give different amounts to each department based on their needs and response abilities.

"That's part of the question too is how are they going to determine who gets what in what funds," said Chief Morriss Barney of the Iola Volunteer Fire Department.

He is worried his department won't be able to grow to meet demand.

"We won't be able to acquire as much new equipment. We'll have to use funds from areas we normally use to buy new equipment and upgrade our equipment with to cover operational expenses for our department," he said.

Commissioners also want more accountability on how the money is spent. They are looking at having a county employee oversee the departments. One idea was to have David Lilly, Grimes County Emergency Management Coordinator take on additional responsibilities.

"Oversight is a big issue and I agree with commissioners that oversight needs to be an issue... I think we're going to be able to provide the level of service that we've provided in the past," said Chief Freeman Vickers, with Whitehall Community Volunteer Fire Department.

"There may be some department who won't qualify for additional funding because they don’t have the certifications that the commissioner's court is looking for to compensate them for. I don’t see that it’s really going to impact the operational readiness of the department," said Vickers.

"It's a constant state of adjustment trying to figure out where we best allocate the tax dollars that are collected each year. So I can understand the concerns of the departments but there are a number of counties that provide no financial support," said Judge Fauth.

"They do a magnificent job but on the accountability side whatever we can do to make sure that we’re spending the taxpayer dollars the way the taxpayers would want them to be spent," he said.

Commissioners are finalizing the county's budget. Over nearly five years, the Grimes County Judge told KBTX the county has paid $2,646,830 to its fire departments.