Mills Apparently Didn’t Hold Public Meetings About Fire Department Budget
The Mills Town Council struggled for years to resolve a budget issue about funding its fire department, but apparently never held any forums to share those concerns with the public and it placed the resolution to defund it just before its regular meeting Wednesday, its mayor said Monday.
"This has been an issue that we've dealt with since I've been involved in the Town of Mills," Seth Coleman said.
However, Coleman didn't know if the town council ever publicly discussed the matter, he said.
The idea of the resolution arose during a work session before the April 24 meeting, and was placed on the agenda.
"Because there is some complied legal questions in here, there was an executive session, and then after that executive session, if you read the minutes, that resolution was voted on as a result of the conversation in that executive session," Coleman said. The minutes for the meeting are not yet posted on the town council's website.
The town's fire department had been all volunteer until a decade ago, and the change to a professional department was intended to be funded by an ambulance service. However, the ambulance service lost money because of uncollected fees, so the town subsidized the department with Optional One-cent Sales Tax revenues intended for capital projects and maintenance.
The town council wanted to restore the optional sales tax revenues to the purposes approved by the voters, and so decided to lay off all fire department personnel as of July 1 and contract with another as yet unknown local fire department for services, Coleman said last week.
In response to the resolution, the local firefighters union on Saturday denounced the resolution, saying it was in retaliation after contract negotiations broke down.
Jeremy Todd, president of the Mills Professional Fire Fighters, said the 9-1-1 response times will increase.
The current contract between the professional firefighters association and Mills government is set to expire later at the end of June. In the release, the association said town officials and firefighters agree on nearly all terms of the contract, including pay.
It was unclear what negotiation issues remain unresolved.
Monday, Todd said could not comment further on advice of the union's attorney
Likewise, Coleman said he disputes the union's response, but the town's attorney advised him to not comment further.
However, he said the Insurance Services Office, which rates a community's local fire protection for property insurance, has given Mills a top rating for response times and other criteria and the town intends to keep that.
"We've got to find a way to fix the budget issues while we keep that," Coleman said.
The town is still working on what agency it might enter a contract with to provide firefighting services and how much that might cost, he said. "When we have information we can give on that we absolutely will."