AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council, sitting Monday as the board of directors for Fire Protection District No. 2, approved a resolution that they hope will end a months-old stand-off between some of the fire departments and the council.
The resolution makes some changes and amendments to the contracts that each individual volunteer fire department signs with the council each year. The council also promised to name a committee to meet with fire chiefs to discuss other possible changes in the contracts.
The chiefs of some of the 10 fire departments in District No. 2 had refused to sign their contracts for the coming year, resulting in those departments not being able to obtain funds for the final quarter of 2015. At the conclusion of the discussion Monday, all chiefs agreed to sign their 2016 contracts.
Three years ago the council voted to centralize the administration of the various departments. Each department is given a portion of tax money based on the area they serve and the money raised in that particular area. Some departments have continued to resist the change to the centralized system since it was adopted.
Councilman David Vial said he met with some recalcitrant chiefs to learn about their complaints. Amite Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer, president of the parish fire chiefs’ association, asked the council to form a committee to hear future grievances.
Dennis James, of Durnin and James CPA, the firm hired to oversee business operations of Fire Protection District No. 2, pointed out the advantages to having a centralized system. James noted, for example, that in a three-year period prior to adoption of the central system, legislative auditors found 64 ethics violations. Since the central system was adopted, James said, only two violations have been cited by state auditors.
James also noted that under the central system the district realized a significant increase in interest gained on the $6 million raised by the fire tax each year. He said that through efficiencies and cost savings, the centralized system saved taxpayers $159,057 in 2015.
James repeatedly reminded the fire chiefs that the funds their departments receive belong to the taxpayers and not to the individual fire departments. He cited recent opinions by the state Attorney General’s Office that place custodianship of fire district funds with the elected officials who serve on the fire board and that it is the responsibility of such boards to have contracts with each department.
“The conclusion of the attorney general’s ruling is: no contract, no public money,” James said.
Councilman Carlo Bruno, who serves as president of the fire district board, promised the chiefs to call a meeting soon so any other differences can be worked out. “We are going to look ahead from this point on and not behind.”