Rural fire district leader provides 'rest of the story'

Guest Column - Fire & Ambulance 28-E Agreements


I have been putting off writing this for some time, but after the articles concerning the fire and ambulance departments, the Index published the past two weeks (June 17 and 24), essentially throwing the rural trustees “under the bus,” it is time the people served so capably by the West Liberty Fire and Ambulance departments hear the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey so famously said.

A little background first. I have been elected a rural trustee from Goshen township for 40-plus years. I have also been elected at the rural fire board’s annual meeting to serve as chairman of the rural fire board for over 30 years. The ambulance side also has officers elected from the rural trustees served by the ambulance service. Providing fire and ems coverage is one of the responsibilities that rural trustees have serving the people who live in their township. I have been personally involved with the negotiations with the city concerning the agreements concerning the fire and ambulance departments.

It seems like the editor of the Index are only interested in presenting the city’s viewpoint and opinions on the ongoing issues with the 28E agreement. Hence my feeling that the public needs to hear the rural trustees perspective.

The current 28E agreement which the city and rural are operating under was first agreed to in 2007. It has automatically renewed each year since then.

This year the city determined that it needed a new 28E agreement to file with the state, so all of a sudden, a new agreement had to be put into place. Something the city has not mentioned, and discovered by attorney Bill Tharp, is the city NEVER filed any of the agreements with the Secretary of State’s Office. This is supposed to have been done every year.

Can't trust city officials

With the meetings we have had with the safety committee and the mayor, based on their responses and actions, we cannot trust what they say, nor do they listen.

We first met with the safety committee and the mayor the first part of February to start the process of coming up with new 28E agreements (one for fire and one for ambulance). At that time, they said they had no intention of terminating the existing agreement, but we needed to move forward with drafting new agreements.

As we talked about timelines at that first meeting, as well as subsequent meetings, we mentioned multiple times at each meeting that since our rural trustee board is primarily made up of farmers that we would/could not commit to meeting during April and May. The committee and mayor indicated this would not be a problem, and that they understood.

Well, starting the first part of April, and continuing into May they tried to set up meetings to discuss the new 28E agreement. We reminded them each time that we had told them early on that we would not be able to meet during that period of time.

But they continue to try to set up meetings. Is it because they want to be able to say the rural trustees are refusing to meet and cooperate? I believe that is the case. So, the first example of not being able to trust these people.

Agreement would continue

We were also told at multiple meetings, and multiple times during each meeting that if we could not reach agreement on a new 28E agreements by the end of March, we would just continue with the current agreements for both fire and EMS, and establish new agreements when they were agreed to. The city’s attorney agreed and mentioned that it would be no problem. When the new 28E was agreed to, all that needed to be done was both the rural and city specify that the “old” agreement would be terminated and the new agreement put in place.

We operated under this assumption as we continued to work out the details on the new agreement. THEN, near the end of a two hour meeting on March 30, with the safety committee and mayor, the mayor, out of the blue, announced that the next day we were going to be given a termination notice for both 28E agreements and that we would have until June 30 to have a new agreement in place. That went against everything they had told us for two months – another example of us not being able to trust them.

Documents had 'stipulations'

A big issue was made in last week’s Index in that the rural trustees had not signed an agreement to extend the termination deadline from June 30 to Sept. 30 (NOT Sept. 20 as was stated in this week’s Index article).

However, nothing was mentioned to the fact that the agreement to give the extension to Sept, 30 that was passed at special city council meeting was NOT the written document that was presented to the rural board to be signed.

The document we were presented with had “stipulations” that we would be agreeing to in order to get the 90-day extension. Attorney Tharp recommended we not sign it. The rural trustees met on June 8 and discussed this situation and we asked Attorney Tharp to rewrite the extension agreement without the stipulations. At our rural meeting, we voted to accept his revised extension agreement, signed it, and the following day he presented it to the city. So, another example of not being able to trust the city council.

I have heard that at least one city council member has publicly stated that the rural has paid only 16 percent of the expenses of the fire department. What was not said is the city is SUPPOSED to provide our rural fire board treasurer a statement and billing every month for the rural township share of the operating expenses.

The rural trustees have NEVER refused or questioned the billing and have sent the requested payment to the city. The current 28E agreement states, "The City shall be responsible for the preparation of monthly statements specifying all expenses incurred in the operation of the Fire Department for the preceeding calendar month and shall forward a copy of said statement to the Fire District’s treasurer by the 10th day of the following month.”

WELL, in the past year and half, our fire district treasurer did not receive a statement for 14 MONTHS! When we brought this to their attention, we were told “they didn’t know.” So, in the public forum we are criticized for not paying our fair share.

We pay what the city tells us we owe. “We” finally got a bill about a month ago and it has been paid. Is it accurate? I surely question that it is. So, another example of the city council spreading “facts” that are at the least not complete or accurate.

Problems & concerns continue

I could go on and on about other examples of problems and concerns we have had working with the safety committee and mayor. More examples of time – they have told us one thing and turned around and did something else. I can think of two times where some “back door” tactics were tried to bypass the rural trustee board or looking into getting us removed from representing our townships. I could give examples of total lack of communication that has taken place within the city council.

The Index article, (June 24) concerning our ambulance service has upset, and rightly so, many people. Remember, the city gave us until Sept. 30, and Attorney Tharp has recommended that we not hastily sign agreements. Is this another tactic by the city to put pressure on the rural trustees to sign agreements we are not ready to sign? I will leave that determination up to you.

The rural trustee board is VERY concerned about providing the residents of our townships with fire and EMS protection. We WILL make this happen. We will be diligent and careful in what we agree too. We will be watching out for the physical and financial well-being of the residents of townships we serve.

It is very evident to us that the city wants to totally control the fire and ambulance departments. I very much believe they want the rural taxpayers to provide half the funding but to keep quiet and out of all actions that involve the fire and ambulance departments. I believe they are finding out that isn’t so easy.

Editor's note: Dick Brand is president of the rural fire board for the West Liberty area. He was first elected as rural fire board president and has held that position for at least 30 years and has been a rural trustee of Goshen Township for over 40. He has attended fire and ambulance meetings since becoming a trustee. He resides about 5 miles SE of WL.

The fire department serves the townships of Iowa, Lincoln, Goshen, Springdale, Wapsie, Lake

The ambulance district serves the following townships and communities: Iowa, Lincoln, Goshen, Wapsie, Pike, Springdale, Atalissa and Nichols