The Tryon Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners has asked the Polk County Board of Commissioners to help in the ongoing dispute between Tryon Fire Department volunteers and the Town of Tryon.
Specifically, the county has been asked to escrow Tryon Fire Department funds until the differences are resolved.
Polk County Manager Michael Talbert says the county has not taken an official position on the matter and currently officials are trying to figure out what if anything the county can do. He says he plans to place the item on the agenda for the Polk County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night.
Tryon Town Council recently amended the town’s fire department ordinance to allow for a paid fire chief. The town has said having a paid chief who answers to the town will provide accountabilityand improved safety.
Most of Tryon volunteer firefighters have opposed the town’s decision, saying that a paid chief is not necessary and the money would be better spent on equipment.
A July 21 letter to the county board of commissioners from Tryon Fire District Chairman Kirtland Flynn says that the fire commission does not accept the salaries defined in the Tryon Fire Department budget and never approved the budget. Flynn says his board recommends that the position should be a part-time, hourly person budgeted at a maximum of $20,000. If the part-time person happens to be an EMT, Flynn says response to EMT calls would be allowed.
“It is our understanding that (the fire commission’s) approval of a budget is a prerequisite to approval of the tax rate by the county board of commissioners, and therefore any tax monies collected should be escrowed until this matter is resolved,” Flynn said in his letter. “Although we are in agreement on the total of the proposed budget and the proposed tax rate, we do not agree on the details. Specifically, we do not accept line 1, Salaries, as stated.”
This year the town has budgeted $33,400 for wages and salaries for a paid fire chief/emergency medical technician (EMT). The town budget has included funding for a fire-fighter/EMT for the past couple of years, but no effort has been made to fill the position.
The town has advertised for a paid fire chief recently and Tryon Town Manager Jim Fatland said several applications have been received. He says he plans to begin interviewing candidates for the position soon.
In response to Flynn’s letter, the Town of Tryon sent a letter to the county this week. Town attorney Bailey Nager says that according to the contract dated June 9, 1986 between Polk County and the Town of Tryon for tax district fire service, the town is charged with submitting a budget to the county on an annual basis. He says the fire commission does not have authority to approve or disapprove of the fire department’s budget.
“Other than to ensure that the funds of the special tax district are spent as approved under the fire department budget, the fire commission has no duty or authority regarding the management of the fire department,” says Nager’s letter.
Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples says to his knowledge Tryon Town Council has not changed its position on the paid fire chief issue and he remains convinced that having a paid fire chief/EMT is needed for the protection of residents. He says town officials have been discussing the need for the position for the past two years.
“The fire department has not done anything wrong,” he says. “This is for the safety of the people.”