This move follows years of dramatic argument between the leaders of the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department and the Bell County Fiscal Court over funding.
Executive Court Judge Albey Brock stated during a press conference on Monday that the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department will no longer receive funds as long as the Arjay and Colmar fire stations remain closed.
"We can't give them money to keep these stations open, and then they close them," said Brock. "If we have to open a whole new fire department while we litigate this six million dollars worth of resources, then we will have to do that."
According to BCVFD President Roy Amburgey, the stations have been closed because of a lack of funds and a lack of volunteers at both stations. Amburgey also cited an upcoming insurance premium as a reason for closing the stations; although the insurance is funded through taxpayer dollars allotted by Bell County Fiscal Court.
The fiscal court pays the insurance on the buildings and reimburses any utility cost of the buildings to the organization. Brock stated that there is no good reason for the stations to be closed.
The most recent action between the Bell County Fiscal Court and the BCVFD could have sparked this new development. The BCVFD submitted their regular reimbursement documentation prior to the regular fiscal court meeting last Tuesday, but the court refused to reimburse the fire department for one costly purchase.
The total reimbursement request was $16,864.25. The main item that drew a red flag from the fiscal court was a surveillance system in the amount of approximately $3,450.
The surveillance system is located at the main BCVFD headquarters, and it was allegedly purchased and installed to combat recent alleged incidents of theft at the station, although there was an existing surveillance system in place at that station.
The Bell County Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors reportedly met later that day and voted to close the stations.
Amburgey stated that the BCVFD lacks the full financial support that they once had back in 2006. He claims that funds have been cut since 2006.
In spite of the closing of the two fire stations, both the BCVFD and Judge Brock assure the public that the two communities will not be affected and that fire coverage is available.
Amburgey assured that both areas will continue to receive fire coverage, but response time may be slower for those living more than five miles from the station.
"I want to assure those who live in the community of Colmar and Arjay, you will have fire protection," said Brock. "You will have a fire station in your community. It may not be under the Bell County Volunteer Fire Department's flag. It may be a new stand alone fire station and it will be fully funded and fully equipped with new members in it, if that is what's necessary."
Brock stated that he believes it doesn't have to do with money.
"We (the fiscal court) will take over any cost associated with either one of those stations and will have them staffed within 48 hours," said Brock. "If they are genuinely trying to do the right thing but can't do it, then let the people that paid for it have it back and there will be some others in those communities step up and do it."
Brock stated that the fiscal court received no official notice from Amburgey or the BCVFD lawyers about the closure of the stations. Brock stated that he is aware that not all of the members of the BCVFD are involved in this situation.
In 2007, the BCVFD and Bell County Fiscal Court went to federal court over the threat of the BCVFD closing four stations. Since then, both sides have been in and out of litigation over different issues.
Amburgery acknowledged the resignation of Chief Rodney Wilder to WRIL on Monday, citing health issues. Wilder's resignation will officially take place at the next BCVFD meeting.
The The Bell County Volunteer Fire Department also requested that the Middlesboro Daily News announce that they will hold a special called meeting at their headquarters, just of Highway 119, later this week. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Written by Middlesboro Daily News