UPDATE: Here is the link to the story of the Wednesday, March 2nd trustee meeting:http://www.galesburg.com/topstories/x2022442479/London-Mills-board-...
I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems as if I’m seeing more and more departments involved in some degree of discourse.
It’s running the gamut; everything from questionable transactions, missing money, firefighter behavior at an incident scene, chief at odds with firefighters, firefighters at odds with their chiefs or chiefs at odds with their boards of trustees (fire commissioners for the big city guys).
The most recent acrimonious example hits very close to me.
London Mills, Illinois could be Woodhull, Illinois were they not nestled along the banks of the Spoon River.
London Mills Fire Department is an all-volunteer fire department and their coverage area falls into both Knox and Fulton Counties.
Stories like this one (http://www.galesburg.com/topstories/x1365678616/London-Mills-fire-d...) really cuts me to the bone, because if the story is accurate; man, how I can relate! It brings back memories of my early days as a chief and working with trustees who literally despised me, but I persevered and managed to work through it until we could pass a referendum electing our trustees.
But, the fact that internal problems have found their way into the public domain and though it might be somewhat unsettling to the community, it can resolve issues; but, does it improve the relationship between fire departments and governing boards; fire departments and communities?
When push comes to shove; if either side feels forced into doing something-to feel threatened-will it serve as a momentary resolution that will not be sustainable going forward and especially if legal problems follow for one side or the other?
And when I say “one side or the other”; it’s really two sides that are supposed to be on the SAME side!
As I have written before; in Illinois, fire protection district Board of Trustees are legally responsible for providing for the fire district’s fire protection. They set the tax levy, establish the budget and pay the bills, equip the fire district and approve all hiring/appointments. Boards of Trustees are held accountable to the law for providing “adequate” fire protection to the taxpayers of their district. Those laws can be found here: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=872&Chapte....
I want to point out Boards of Trustees are NOT required to apply for grants, increases taxes or allow for the billing of non-district users. They are all very good vehicles for raising revenue for the district, but if your trustees won’t even send in the necessary paperwork to the Office of the Comptroller to keep tax money flowing to the district; what would you suppose the odds are that they won’t be willing to do even more paperwork to garner additional sources of revenue?
The sad part is that all of it can be done from a computer. No paper required!
Fire districts that have budgets of less than $850,000 are not required to conduct audits, though it’s a very good idea, regardless of size of budget. Taxpayers are getting more and more concerned about how their money is being spent or in some cases; how it is being stolen.
So, it is a good idea to perform audits and submit them to the Comptroller, because as I said earlier; if the Comptroller doesn’t get your reports, he contacts your County Treasurer and tells them to hold the tax money until they get the report of how the district spent the previous year’s tax money. It really isn’t that difficult. I can even do it!
Now; the cat’s out of the bag. It’s in the newspapers. I am sure that it is the talk of the coffee shop and I am sure that sides are being taken and the questions will be raised and hopefully answered.
You see; I have been on both sides of the fence; as a firefighter and chief and now as a trustee, but I was going to trustee training seminars while I was chief. Why; because the trustees wouldn’t go to them. I found that to be rather foolish on their part.
All of that changed for our department, which is why I hope it changes for London Mills Fire Department. I know that they are very dedicated to their fire district and I know that these issues weren’t raised just to “stir the pot”. I know that Chief Anderson struggled with it for some time and it’s a heavy burden. He, like most fire chiefs, is supposed to be responsible for the day-to-day operation of their fire departments. He and his firefighters should not have to raise money to operate, but like so many small departments, it is usually out of necessity.
And in my mind, if firefighters are willing to go on calls, risk their livelihoods and their lives, hold fundraisers and help to keep their communities safe, then the least that the governing body-the Board of Trustees-can do is to make every effort to provide them with the tools.
I am going to offer some unsolicited advice to my friends in London Mills.
The best money that you will ever spend is for a membership in the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts. Then, you can go to trustee training seminars that are very cheap. You should also purchase the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts Handbook and the Text of Laws. Everything that you need to comply with your statutory duties is contained in this paragraph.
As I write this, there was to be another meeting tonight in London Mills. I hope for everyone’s sake that the issues can be resolved for the betterment of the citizens, the fire department and the Board of Trustees.
TCSS.The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.