Request to move fire district line made

By Tammy Helm
Fort Scott Tribune – May 15, 2015

The Bourbon County Commissioners found themselves once again in the middle of the dispute between township trustees and a fire district.

Commissioners called in the county counselor to advise them on how to proceed with a request to adopt a resolution to move the boundary line for the Garland and Scott Township fire districts.

Don Banwart, Scott Township trustee, and Darrell Bloomfield, Drywood Township trustee attended Tuesday’s commission meeting to make the request and also tell their experience of meeting with Garland Fire District Board members.

Bloomfield and Banwart said they are unable to get any information from the fire district board.

“The reason I’m involved in this is because it hampers Scott Township in the operation of our fire department,” Banwart said.

He presented a letter signed by members of the Garland Fire Department board and addressed to the Scott Township Board Trustees asking the trustees to fill a vacancy on the fire district board.

According to the letter, there has been a vacancy since Sept. 28, 2013. The fire board consists of residents from Scott and Drywood townships.

The letter also states that none of the fire department board members from Scott Township live in the fire district.

The letter cites K.S.A. 80-1542, which states, “If any of the members of the township board serving on the governing body of a fire district do not reside in such fire district, the township board shall appoint an elector of such township residing in such fire district to serve on the governing body of such fire district in place of any member of the township board who does not reside in such fire district.”

“They’re using a statute there that’s written for a large township, not Garland,” Bloomfield said.

The statute also states if a fire district includes “land located in less than four townships, the members of the township boards shall be the governing body of such fire district. If such fire district includes land located in four or more townships, the governing body of such townships, meeting and acting together, shall adopt a resolution fixing the number of members from each township board that will constitute the governing body of such fire district and the period of time that such member will serve on the governing body of such fire district.”

Banwart suggested the “easiest” way to solve the issue is for Scott Township to take over the entire Scott Township, and Garland Fire District 2 cover all of Drywood Township.

That would mean the Garland Fire District Board would no longer exist and the governance of the fire district would fall to the Drywood Township Board of Trustees.

“Then all of this is resolved, there are no problems,” Banwart said. “All of the books are open to the public. It makes all our business good.”

He said the disadvantage would be the loss of revenue for Garland Fire District No. 2, “which they need.”

“So Scott Township Board is willing to pay money to them to get established,” Banwart said.

He said the current mill levy set by the Garland Fire District is 11.309 mills, while Scott Township’s mill was reduced from 5.956 to 5.840.

Bloomfield and Banwart also discussed the communication barrier between Garland and other fire districts. Later, Delwin Mumbower, Bourbon County Fire District 3 chief, said Garland has been operating on its own radio frequency, which means the only entity that knows if Garland has a call is central dispatch.

“There’s no other department that’s aware when Garland gets a call,” Mumbower said.

Lack of communication also hampers communication between districts that have established mutual aid agreements with Garland FD, Banwart said.

“Garland does not run that many calls,” Bourbon County Emergency Manager William Wallis said. “You would show justification in moving the boundaries back simply because Scott Township right now is on automatic mutual aid.”

He said each time Garland FD is called, Scott Township also has to respond, even if they are not paged.

Wallis said there have been regular fire chiefs meetings, but it was only recently that Connie May, Garland FD2 fire chief, began attending. The purpose of the meetings is to discuss training and other needs each district has and also “get everyone working on the same page.”

Currently, the goal is to get each fire volunteer signed up on the Code Red emergency alert system in case communication is knocked out. He said FD3 and Redfield Fire District 4 have signed up.

“But I’m getting pushed back from Garland,” Wallis said. “It’s a battle, because when you go to ask for a roster …”

He said he was invited to speak at one of their meetings.

“This is the situation down there,” Wallis said. “Those residents are getting heavily taxed by a fire department that is not cooperating with its citizens. And that’s what I heard. I agree with these guys.”

He said he agrees the fire district line should be moved.

“If Garland Fire Department was operating and working in concert with the Drywood Township, would any of this be necessary?” Commission Chair Barbara Albright said.

Bloomfield said it would help if the fire district worked with the township trustees.

“So this all has to do with lack of cooperation, coordination and communication,” Albright said. “So if we sift through all this, that is the situation?”

Bloomfield said the fire district board was first established as an advisory board.

Albright said before the commissioners take any action, they needed to consult with Justin Meeks, county counsel, who was scheduled to meet with commissioners later.

Bloomfield and Banwart said they would return at 2 p.m. and, as the commissioners recessed for lunch, it was learned that May also would attend the meeting.

But May did not attend the meeting. Bloomfield, Banwart, Roberta Bloomfield, Mumbower and Hiattville Fire Chief Lou Howard were in attendance.

Banwart provided Meeks with the history of the fire district boundary.

The Garland Fire District was formed in 1968. Banwart said in March 2004, there was a petition to enlarge the Scott Township fire district boundary to form Fire District 5. The county commissioners approved the request, with a portion of the township “carved out” so Garland would “have sufficient money to operate.”

“We agreed with that, but what we wanted was a letter of intent so we could go ahead and apply for a grant for a new truck,” Banwart said.

The grant was approved and the truck was purchased, he said.

“Everything went fine, worked well, and then when Connie May came into the Garland Fire District — and we don’t know what her title is — she produced a document stating we had to appoint appointees to serve in our stead on the board.”

Banwart said three people were appointed, but one has since resigned and the seat is vacant because the township trustees won’t appoint someone until the GFD board, comprised of non-elected individuals, is more forthcoming with information.

Meeks said he is aware of Bloomfield and Banwart’s request for information. He said the GFD board has a right to expect payment for the requested documents.

Bloomfield the fee being charged for open records is “unreasonable.”

“I’ve checked on that,” Meeks said. “It’s reasonable compared to fees for the state. They’re right on line for what Bourbon County charges for their requests.”

He said the GFD board could choose to deduct the cost for labor because collecting the documents is being done by a volunteer.

“You have the right to write a complaint and then my office would review that KOMA (Kansas Open Meetings Act),” Meeks said. “But I’ve already looked at the request for that information. Ms. (former county attorney Terri) Johnson and I both did. It’s reasonable under the statute.”

When Albright asked Mumbower what his thoughts are, Mumbower said he understands what Bloomfield and Banwart are trying to do.

“They’re trying to get control of that department and fix a mess that’s been a mess for quite some time down there,” Mumbower said.

He said he also understands why they are asking to move the boundary so Drywood Township is in charge of the Garland Fire District, but he isn’t sure why they want to give up an area west of U.S. Highway 69.

Meeks said he would research whether the fire district’s governance should be with the township or as an independent board. He said he would also research what role the county commission should play in moving the district boundaries. He said he would have more information on May 26.

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