Serving the High Plains

Fire departments tackle new system

As the new fiscal year begins for nine rural fire departments, county officials centered their concerns on how to continue services under the new quarterly funding system.

“The good news is the first portion of the funding will be in sooner than expected,” said Richard Primrose, County Manager.

Primrose said the first 26 percent of the expected funds should come in late July or early August. He said despite the early arrival the amount the departments receive may only be enough to make payments to the Finance Authority for their equipment purchase loans.

Primrose said as it stands, many departments are using carryover cash balances from last year for operational and maintenance costs. He said many of the departments have loans they used to purchase equipment. In the old system the departments would receive a lump sum from the fire protection fund and each department would pay their loans and have money to operate, Primrose added.

When the departments purchased new fire engines and water trucks, they did so when the old funding system was still in place, said Donald Adams, Quay County Fire Marshall.

Adams said the purchases were made to ensure the fire departments have the equipment to provide the essential services for the residents. He said each department has to make sure they have the required and certified equipment for each firefighter. The regulations and requirements are constantly changing and each department works to stay up to date for the safety of the firefighters and the public, Adams added.

“People would be shocked at the cost to properly equip a firefighter,” Adams said. “On the top end it could easily cost $15,000 to equip one firefighter.”

Primrose said the Finance Authority has notified counties about a short term loan option. He said the authority would lend the departments money to pay their loans and would be repaid when the next distribution is sent out.

“They are going to loan us our money, until we can pay them with our money,” Primrose said.

Primrose said there is a real possibility of the counties having to assist the departments with their daily operational and maintenance cost. He said this will be a challenge for rural counties like Quay that has nine rural fire departments to cover the county.

The funding system for the fire departments and law enforcement changed in April when Gov. Susana Martinez signed House Bill 4, which swept funds from the Fire and Law Enforcement Protection funds.

The bill not only swept money from the funds, but restructured the funding distribution, said Mike Cherry, Quay County commissioner.

Cherry said these funds are the main source of money used by fire departments for the operational cost, maintenance and purchasing of equipment.

Fire departments are used to receiving the funds in a lump sum in July, but this will change to monthly distribution, said Brian Moore, New Mexico Association of Counties lobbyist.

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