WINSTON COUNTY - The need for more funding is a constant issue for both the Winston County Sheriff’s Office, as well as volunteer fire departments, which struggle daily without updated trucks and equipment. A bill has been introduced that, if approved by the voters of Winston County, will provide much needed relief to this financial situation.
The proposed legislation would permit the Winston County sheriff to conduct fundraising events including, but not limited to, rodeos and fishing tournaments, and use the proceeds and profits from such events for any lawful purpose relating to the office of the sheriff or distribute the proceeds to volunteer fire departments and charitable organizations, according to a copy of the proposed bill.
Wording on the ballot would ask qualified voters of Winston County to vote either yes or no on the above legislation.
The bill would become law immediately after its passage by
Winston County voters and approval by the governor. The bill and will be on the ballot in the next general, primary or special election, the proposed legislation also stated.
Winston County Sheriff Caleb Snoddy met with State Representatives Tracy Estes and Tim Wadsworth about ongoing funding issues his office faces and the idea of drafting legislation that might help alleviate the situation.
“It actually has (a) dual purpose, the bill does,” Snoddy stated. “It will allow the sheriff’s office to raise funding for any lawful purpose relating to the sheriff’s office.
“Fire departments are always in great need of funding and equipment, so we drafted it with the ability to take proceeds from these fundraising events and share them with fire departments and other charitable organizations in our community that desperately need funding, as well,” he continued.
Two major resources in Winston County are the Bankhead National Forest and Smith Lake, Snoddy said.
“I believe that a bass tournament or a fishing tournament would do very well in this area,” he said. “I would probably be able to garner a good bit of support for that.”
An idea presented through this proposed legislation would be for the sheriff’s office to be identified as a part of the community, according to Snoddy.
“These will simply be fundraising events where participation will be voluntary. This bill is in no way an added cost to Winston County and the taxpayers thereof,” Snoddy stressed.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for some supplemental funding,” he continued. “It’s always good when you can bring a little bit more funding in.
“We’ve had a busy first part of the year, and there have been a lot of things that have happened in the fallout of the pistol permit and the lost funding there.”
The sheriff’s office experienced a decrease in funding from pistol permits after the state passed legislation known as the Constitutional Carry Act, which no longer requires residents to obtain a permit in order to possess a concealed weapon, sheriff’s officials said.
“A lot of people still like to obtain a pistol permit and can do so through the sheriff’s office, but it is not mandatory,” Snoddy pointed out.
Sheriff’s office funding has decreased the past several years due to open carry and other issues, Snoddy continued. Funds from pistol permits went into the general fund of the sheriff’s office to be spent on any costs relating to the operation of the sheriff’s office, sheriff’s officials said.
Funds from that account were used for vehicles, maintenance, laptops, tasers and general equipment for deputies, Snoddy said.
Since the funds have decreased, the sherriff’s office is more frugal with its budget, stretching the dollar as far as they can, according to Snoddy.
Fire departments struggle
“We need trucks. We need new gear. We need newer equipment. We need hoses, nozzles. You name it, we need it,” stated Ashridge Fire Chief Daniel Robins.
“My turnout gear, 90 percent of it is out of date,” Robins added. “Our trucks are under maintenance. Most of our hoses need to be replaced. Our air packs are becoming out of date.”
Volunteer fire departments face a wide variety of struggles, especially when it comes to revenue. Outside of fire dues and donations, local volunteer fire departments have to strongly rely on fundraisers to help bring in funding for their departments. On the western side of Winston County, volunteer fire departments have a particularly hard time with the financial struggle.
“Most of the money we raise in a year goes back into doing truck maintenance. We don’t have the money to replace all the gear we need right now,” Robins further emphasized.
The amount the department has raised through fundraisers has decreased significantly the past few years, with the price of everything going up, Robins said.
The success of a fundraiser depends on the time of month it is held, as well as how well the community is doing financially, according to Robins.
“We have people who support us. It’s normally the same ones,” he said. “We rely on our fire dues and on our fundraisers.”
Fire dues are $60 a year for residents and $120 a year for businesses in Ashridge, firefighters said.
“Most of it goes back into fuel, medical equipment,” said Robins.
A $5,000 grant the department receives each year from the Resource Conservation and Development Council has helped provide radios and thermal imaging devices, he said.
With the possibility of getting more funding, if the legislation passes, Robins responded, “It will help out tremendously. Every little bit helps.”
Ashridge firefighter Roger Moody noted that their pumper 2, an early 1980s model, is the oldest fire vehicle still in service in Winston County.
“We cannot afford any more trucks. We have to keep what we’ve got going the best we can,” Moody stated.
“Pumper 2 has been a dependable truck,” added Moody. “That’s why it’s still in service. It’s getting so old that eventually parts are going to be unavailable.
“The dues people pay and what few fundraisers we do, that’s all we get,” Moody said. The forestry money the fire department receives each year will not even cover the cost of one set of turnout gear, which is around $3,000, firefighters pointed out.
Firefighter Elijah Suitts showed the Alabamian a set of worn and outdated turnout gear the department is still using, due to a lack of funding.
“It’s still usable. It’s all we have,” Suitts said.
“We’re giving 110 percent to do our best to serve the community with what we have,” Moody added. “We’ll go as far as we can to take care of the community.”
Delmar Fire Chief Ray Cantrell noted their department is stretched as thin as it can go with outdated equipment, due to a lack of funding.
“Winston County has zero money for fire departments,” Cantrell said, adding that fire departments on the east side benefit from a portion of bills collected from Cullman Electric. That situation is not available for fire departments on the west side of the county, according to Cantrell.
“Marion County gets a tax for their fire departments,” Cantrell continued. “We get zero dollars. I get absolutely nothing except a $1,600 check from forestry once a year. That barely covers a month-and-a-half’s worth of bills.
“How am I going to buy new gear, new trucks, new air packs every so often, when I have no money, and the money I have in the bank is just to keep the doors open?” Cantrell pointed out.
“It’s a struggle to keep the doors open and keep functioning,” he continued.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but if I had $600 a month guaranteed money, we’d still have to do our fundraisers like we do, but it would be tremendous to the three fire departments that get zero funding,” said Cantrell.
Cantrell was referring to Delmar, Ashridge and Pebble departments.
Lt. Zena Ingram with the Delmar Fire Department, stressed the department is in such a dire financial situation that they are collecting and selling scrap, including household appliances, cans and other items.
The fire department hauls away the scrap, receives money for it and places that money into their account to help offset expenses, Ingram said.
“Anything and everything we can do to help our community, to keep this (department) up and running, and maybe try to get some equipment,” Ingram pointed out.
Ingram noted that fuel prices for fire trucks have skyrocketed. “We go on a wreck, on a scene, and we have to sit there with two trucks running, there’s that fuel just burning up.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.