Overview of annual fire fee collection, expenditures
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By Christa Jennings
Senior staff writer
Last month the Coosa County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments provided the County Commission with its annual fire fee reports for the usage of fire fee funds expended by the county’s volunteer fire departments in 2022.
The association represents the county’s 10 volunteer fire departments: Equality, Goodwater, Hanover, Kellyton, Marble Valley, Ray, Richville, Rockford, Stewartville, and Weogufka.
In a letter to the commission, CCAVFD Secretary/Treasurer Pam Weathers said that the volunteer fire departments responded to “several hundred calls for service” ranging in category from tree removal in roadways to vehicle crashes with major injuries and other medical calls, as well as structure and brush fires.
Weathers also expressed gratitude to the commission for the fire fee and how it helps the departments with funds.
Her letter stated, “All Coosa County VFD firefighters/first responders are 100% volunteer. We remain diligent in our efforts to improve training and acquisition of updated equipment, which without these annual fire fee funds would not be possible. On behalf of the volunteer service in Coosa County I would like to thank you for your continued support.”
Barring those who are exempt from paying the fire protection fee, every owner of a residence and business; as well as those who own mobile homes, house trailers and units of manufactured housing; pays the fire fee annually in Coosa County. The fee is collected and distributed among the association and the county’s 10 fire departments.
Weathers explained that the association gets a check from the County Commission, provided two times a year, which is collected from the revenue commission office.
“With the amount of the check we have a spreadsheet that divides the amount provided,” Weathers said. “It is divided by coverage area. These percentages were done with the help of the revenue office to get as close as possible to the house count in the proper area. The association gets a small percentage. Most is spent on insurance, etc. We are all thankful for the fire fee! One major expense like a truck breaking down or even tires and batteries can deplete the fire fund quickly.”
Per the Code of Alabama Section 45-19-141.03, in Coosa County the fire protection fee is levied, collected and enforced “as closely as possible at the same time and manner and under the same requirements and laws as are the state ad valorem taxes.”
The fire protection fee also shall not exceed $30 per dwelling and $50 per business, and it is to be paid by the owner of the dwelling or business. It is collected at the time of the issuance or renewal of the yearly decals.
According to the Code of Alabama Section 45-19-141.10, the proceeds of the fire protection fee shall be paid into the general fund of the county. It further reads, “Within 30 days after payment into the general fund, the commission shall pay the funds to the Coosa County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments.”
To be eligible to receive proceeds from the fire protection fee, each department must be a member in good standing in the Coosa County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, per the Code of Alabama.
“Good standing” is defined as being current on all association dues, being incorporated as a volunteer nonprofit organization, having a bonded official responsible for the use of any proceeds of the fire protection fee, and being recognized by the Alabama Forestry Commission as a volunteer fire department.
If any departments are not in good standing then they may be subject to having their fire fee funds withheld until their good standing status is restored.
Also according to the Code of Alabama, “Upon the dissolution or abandonment of any eligible department, the remaining proceeds, the assets purchased with proceeds and future proceeds from the fire protection fee shall be divided among the departments that take over coverage of the territory of the dissolved department after all outstanding financial obligations have been satisfied.”
The Code also states that the association shall retain 5% of the gross proceeds from each district to be used for countywide fire protection, fire prevention and emergency medical services to “include, but not be limited to, fire or emergency medical equipment, fire or emergency medical supplies, training, buildings, capital improvements, insurance, dues, and professional services.” The proceeds cannot be used for salaries, entertainment, or fundraising purposes.
Any proceeds from the association’s 5% share of the collected fees that are unexpended or not appropriated at the end of the fiscal year remain in the association’s treasury for appropriation and use “during any fiscal year thereafter.”
The Code states that the association will distribute all funds beyond that retained 5% to the individual fire departments by district.
For the volunteer fire departments, proceeds from the fire protection fee may be used at the discretion of each department for fire protection, fire prevention and emergency medical services, including those items mentioned above for the association.
As is the case for the association, likewise any proceeds from the fire fee that are not expended or appropriated at the end of the fiscal year will remain in the individual department’s treasury for appropriation and use during any fiscal year thereafter as needed.
The Code of Alabama also states that “after receiving the proceeds, the departments shall keep accurate records to verify that the funds are properly used. In January of each year that proceeds were received in the prior year, each department shall submit a financial report to the association detailing the expenditures of proceeds from the fire protection fee for the prior year. …The association shall provide the same financial report on all proceeds from the fire protection fee that it has expended in the prior year. The association shall provide these records to the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts and the commission. The reports shall be a public record.”
In total, Coosa County business and dwelling owners paid $136,256.32 in fire protection fees, collected and distributed among the fire departments and association. Some used only a portion of the fire fee fund, while others expended the full amount.
Based on the annual reports, the association of volunteer fire departments received $6,041.86 for the year from fire fees collected in Coosa County.
Of that, the association used a total of $3,860 for its emergency funds, checks for its accounts, association dues, a pump test, and a bond. That left $2,181.86 held in reserve from the 2022 fire protection fee.
Equality VFD was allocated $11,589.39 for the year. It spent $11,796.08 on insurance, CCAVFD workman’s comp, AAVFD death and accidental insurance, and truck repairs.
As such, Equality spent $206.69 more than it received in fire fees for the year and had nothing held in reserve.
Goodwater VFD was allocated $21,173.93. Of that, it spent $13,921.08 on a building payment, leaving the department with $7,252.85 held in reserve from the 2022 fire protection fee.
Hanover VFD was allocated $5,800.37 for the year. It spent $5,800 on insurance and its power bill.
Kellyton VFD was allocated $17,866.36. It spent that exact amount on a rescue truck, leaving nothing held in reserve from last year’s fire fees.
Marble Valley VFD was allocated $5,800.37. The department spent $6,356 on insurance, leaving nothing held in reserve.
Ray VFD received $13,775.34. It spent a total of $13,859.03 on insurance, electric bills and “Williams Fire App,” leaving nothing held in reserve from the allocated fire fee fund.
Richville VFD received $10,179.52. It expended a total of $13,188 on insurance and a building payment, which was $3,008.48 over its allotment, leaving nothing held in reserve.
Rockford VFD was allocated $10,593.43. It spent a total of $10,655.97 on insurance, fuel, equipment and communication, maintenance and parts for equipment, propane, water, and electricity.
Stewartville VFD was allocated $19,880.40. OF that it spent a total of $18,480 on a bank loan, insurance and workmans comp, leaving it with $1,400.40 held in reserve from last year’s fire fees.
Weogufka VFD was allocated $13,555.45. However, it spent a total of $24,176.42 on fuel and propane; insurance; truck repair, batteries, tires, and handheld GPS; ATV repair, keys and a tag for the trailer; utilities; building repairs and maintenance; medical supplies; Wildland gear/turnout gear; and other supplies such as copier ink, paper, stamps, the Post Office box rental, and more.