LEMOORE, CA — For the past six months, the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department has functioned as usual in addition to having to negotiate with the city to get the department funded again.

In the process of making these changes, the city has caused an unexpected burden on the volunteers in consuming their time to get this done.

“I say this personally; I expect an apology,” Brahm Rossiter, a volunteer firefighter said. “The time that you took away from me and my family is not good. It needs to stop.”

Rossiter went up to speak on behalf of the volunteers at the May 3 city council meeting. He said that the negotiations between the city and the department had taken a toll on the volunteers.

The city six months ago began formalizing the way they pay the LVFD which is now being changed in order to reflect the reality that the individual volunteers have never been paid and don’t want to.

The volunteers simply want funding for the department.

The city historically reimbursed the department for the work that each volunteer would be paid per call; however, there is no record of an agreement for how the city has been paying the department according to staff.

Financial Director Heather Corder said she noticed when she started two years ago that there was no agreement between the city and the LVFD in place and that if the city where to be audited that would be a possible issue.

Olson said in a February meeting that the last documentation was from 1962 stating the city would pay $2.50 per call. At some point, the city began paying $5 per volunteer per call. The council in February formalized that as the agreement of what to pay the LVFD.

Corder said that previously the city received a report from the department on the calls they responded to and how many volunteers that responded and then the city would write a check to a single account for the department.

The $5-per-call agreement was interpreted by the city that the volunteers would be paid individually. So, the city asked the volunteers to fill out tax forms so the money could be tracked, as is required of the city on expenditures.

However, Bruce German, the LVFD fire chief, said that the department doesn’t pay the volunteers and instead uses the money given to pay for equipment, training and related expenses.

Rossiter said the volunteers also sought outside counsel from lawyers and accountants and found some issues with filling out the proposed forms.

If the volunteers filled out an I-9 form, they would then be considered a contractor and would then not be covered by the city if injured while responding to a call.

If the volunteers filled out a W-4 form, they could be taxed on this income. Rossiter added that if the city paid the volunteers individually, there would be no obligation of the volunteer to donate that money to help fund the department.

Rossiter also said the volunteers do not want to be paid individually and that they simply want funding to help the department.

Although the city has not funded the department since November 2017, Olson said the city has been working with the fire department to ensure they got new equipment and training manuals while they have not been reimbursed as they usually have.

He also said the city has the intention of including a system of paying the LVFD back for the work they did over the past six months.

The Council became aware of the lack of payment on May 1 when Council member Holly Blair brought it up.

The council on May 3 held a special meeting to find a resolution. Council members chose to have a contract with LVFD that would allow the department to have funding for all that the firefighters need and place items in the fire department’s budget to cover all necessary expenses.

The city has created a draft of the contract and passed it on to the LVFD. Olson said the LVFD is now reviewing it with their lawyers.

After LVFD and the city staff come to an agreement, the contract will come to council at a later date to be adopted.

From: Hanford Sentinel

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