Commission withholds funding from fire department in transition

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Chilton County Commission unanimously voted on Monday to temporarily hold funding of West Chilton Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 1 until more answers could be provided about the organization.

The vote came after commissioner Joseph Parnell asked Jason Scott, president of the Chilton County Volunteer Fire Association, to update the commission about the status of West Chilton Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 1, after recent arrests in connection with alleged theft of fire department funds.

The three West Chilton Volunteer Fire Department officials arrested July 29 were Donna Tate, Steve Tate and Apache Corona, who were arrested on charges including theft of property and extortion.

Donna Tate and Corona were listed as treasurers of the West Chilton Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 1 and Steve Tate was the fire chief.

The investigation is ongoing.

Parnell said he was concerned that West Chilton did not have an operative board, but was still receiving funding from the county.

“We have money going to a non-existent entity right now,” Parnell said. “I think in some ways we as a commission are being negligent. We are tasked to make sure those funds are appropriated correctly, and there are still some issues on whether there is even a fire department right now.”

Scott told Parnell that neighboring fire department agencies were pooling assets to cover residents living in the coverage area of West Chilton until a solution could be worked out.

“I want to assure those living in the area of West Chilton that they are being covered,” Scott said. “The community as a whole is covered right now.”

Scott told the commissioners that a meeting had been scheduled for Aug. 23 at Mars Hill Baptist Church which would be hosted by the Chilton County Fire Association, Chilton County E-911 and Chilton County EMA to answer questions from citizens and to establish a board of directors for West Chilton Fire Station No. 1.

Scott said it is an open public community meeting at Mars Hill Baptist Church Family Life Center, located at 4301 County Road 42.

The meeting will be conducted by Probate Judge Bobby Martin.

“Our overall goal is to fill the department back out, and to let the citizens know they are protected,” Scott said.

Parnell asked how much time Scott thought it would take after the meeting to have a new board elected and operational.

“I am concerned about the funding and taxpayers’ money right now,” Parnell said. “Where is our money going?”

Scott said he could not give a specific time frame, but estimated a possibility of 30-60 days.

County Attorney John Hollis Jackson said he thought the commission would be justified in passing a resolution to withhold payment of funds to the department until it had an operative board.

“I don’t want to harm anyone in the community at all,” Parnell said. “I know this is a sensitive topic right now because things are still being investigated, but we just need to know as a commission how we need to respond to this.”

Parnell said he would invite anyone associated with West Chilton Station No. 1 to attend the next commission meeting Aug. 25 to establish to the commission the board was operational, present and in need of funding.

“We can just hold the money until they prove existence,” Parnell said.

Commission Chairman Allen Caton said commissioners needed to hold funds to the department until proof of a department existed.

“We owe that to the citizens of West Chilton and the entire county,” Caton said.

Parnell asked when the next amount of funding was supposed to be mailed out.

County administrator Connie Powell said the funding would be mailed out at the end of August.

“I am going to step out on a limb here that we temporarily hold the funding of West Chilton until we have more answers to how their organization is structured and who is going to be in charge of that funding,” Parnell said.

Everyone voted in favor.

Caton said he wanted to thank all of the fire departments who are currently stepping up to compensate for the lack of personnel at West Chilton Fire Department Station No. 1.

“People in that community are very concerned about this right now,” Caton said.