Henderson Co. VFD Funding Hits Road Block

Henderson County is desperate to find hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund its volunteer fire departments or officials say some could shut down.

An ordinance to give some relief for fire chiefs failed last week. While the man behind the mission is bruised in more ways than one, he isn't giving up.

“Funding levels have fallen to the point where this is now a problem and it threatens the existence of some of these departments,” says Henderson County Judge-Executive Brad Schneider.

Times are tough and county VFD money is drying up. Schneider says that’s due largely to the recession, and people not as willing to donate as they once were. “The county can't fund this mainly with taxpayer money, the need is too great,” he says.

Ty Rideout is the owner of Abba Promotions in Henderson, and he’s doing his part to help by making t-shirts and bumper stickers. “They leave their supper table to come help your family so this was just something fun and easy,” he says.

Rideout is still taking pre-orders but the shirts will be available by the end of March. He hopes to raise a couple thousand dollars, but it's just a drop in the bucket compared to hundreds of thousands the county needs.

An ordinance proposed by Schneider aims to solve the problem by imposing an optional $55 fee for county property owners. Anyone can opt out, no questions asked but Schneider hopes its done annually not permanently.

“Permanent opt outs are a poison pill,” he says. The idea is to encourage participation. With an opt out forever he says there's no motivation to change your mind later.

Schneider says the goal is to have 80 percent of the county give $55 annually, which could generate as much as $400,000 for the ten volunteer fire departments. The money you donate would go to your local VFD. City residents pay $280 annually for fire protection.

It was a sudden change in the ordinance last week that caught Schneider off guard. The ordinance failed on first reading in last Tuesday’s Fiscal Court meeting.

Schneider says he was in the hospital recovering after falling on his chin during a seizure. “I busted it wide open,” he says with a scar still visible on his jaw. “Missing the meeting I think impacted what happened.” Schneider says he stayed overnight in the hospital for tests which came back negative.

But on the third floor of Henderson’s old courthouse, Magistrates Carter Wilkerson and George Warren proposed amendments that would allow permanent opt outs for senior citizens and pieces of property without buildings, like farm land. They say it’s inconvenient for people who know they’ll opt out to do it every year.

“What’s inconvenient is getting called out at 2 a.m. on a January night to go help save your neighbors house by putting yourself in danger for no pay,” Schneider refutes, saying permanent opt outs undermine the purpose of the ordinance.

Wilkerson and Warren say they support the funding ordinance, just with the amendments. Warren says seniors often live without a vehicle and may not have a computer which would allow them to opt out every year.

Henderson County’s ordinance is modeled after other western Kentucky counties like Hopkins, Daviess, and Grayson counties. Schneider says most of those counties don’t have the opt-out choice.

“I respect the magistrates,” Schneider says, “they're elected officials and I’m sure they're doing what they think is best, but I think they're being short-sighted.”

The ordinance will be back on the table at the next Fiscal Court meeting April 4 and Schneider says he will push to drop the amendments.

Schneider says when the cat is away, “the mice decided to play.”


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