If you live in the Ruth Community you’ll have an “extra” measure on your ballot Tuesday.

Residents in Ruth are being asked to approve a fire district fee of $5 that would go to the Ruth Volunteer Fire Department.

The referendum on those ballots is:

“Do you favor the assessment of a fire service fee in the amount of $5 (five dollars) a month for the purpose of funding fire protection services in this volunteer fire district?”

The Marshall County Commission created the Ruth VFD District earlier this year at the request of the fire department. It was the first step in getting the measure on the ballot.

“The Ruth Volunteer Fire Department requests and would greatly appreciate the support of voters in favor of this fundraising measure to provide a greater and more stable way to support fire protection and basic life support services in the Ruth Fire District,” said George Windborne, chairman of the Ruth VFD board of directors.

If approved, the $5 per month fee would be collected annually through property taxes ($60 a year).

Residents who qualify for the Over 65 Special Homestead Exemption are also exempt from the fire district fee.

The following are a few questions and answers Windborne thought might help Ruth residents…

Q. Why Does the RFVD Need a Fire Protection Service Fee?

A. Revenues are down. The RVFD was formed by local residents in 1986 as a not-for-profit corporation.

Historically, fire department funding has come from a small portion of residents who voluntarily contribute money monthly through their water bills or by making donations annually at our traditional spring and fall fundraisers.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 concerns have hampered our usual fundraising and community outreach efforts this year and impacted that kind of fundraising. In addition, another traditional revenue source has been modest lump sum checks that the Alabama Forestry Commission usually gives annually to volunteer departments involved in wildland fire management.

Consumer tobacco taxes, which are collected in the county and divided by the county amongst the volunteer departments on a monthly basis, have traditionally been our major source of revenue.

However, this revenue stream has substantially gone down as smoking has diminished or been replaced by vaping over the years. Lastly, we used to get some money from the State Legislature annually that was sourced from fees paid by the Tennessee Valley Authority in lieu of property taxes.

However, it is our understanding that those monies will no longer come to Marshall County volunteer departments.

We have applied for a number of Federal grants through FEMA and received a number of them for PPE, medical supplies and, most recently, analog/digital multimode “P25” radios that will eventually be used with the new digital radio system being built in Marshall County.

However, we must pay a match of 5 percent of any approved grant-funded project and have only been successful when we engaged outside consultants, which cost another 5 percent of the project amount.

We are very grateful to the members of our community who contribute financially. However, the RVFD has never been well-funded and we are getting steadily more cash starved every year.

Our fire engines are many decades old and it is a struggle to keep at least one road worthy and operational.

We have a slightly newer pickup style support truck that carries a small water tank and is used for wildfire suppression where a large firetruck might get stuck.

We desperately need a new engine or pumper/tanker that meets National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) contemporary standards. Such vehicles cost around $250-300 thousand and we would still have to come up with 5- or 10-percent match.

A reader might wonder why we don’t just ask for a grant for a late model used fire engine for a lot less money. It does not work that way with FEMA.

FEMA will only fund the purchase of new, NFPA compliant fire apparatus and a grantee is not allowed to mortgage the truck to pay off the match amount.

Radios appear to be an upcoming new operating expense for fire departments everywhere. The Federal Government regulates radio spectrum.

Two converging factors are working to drive up the cost of using that spectrum for emergency services.

The growing demand for consumer mobile communications, i.e. smart phones and other wireless services caused the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reorganize radio spectrum to sell off bandwidth for consumer use and necessitate the need for more efficient use of available bandwidth.

After the events of 9/11/2001 nationally (terrorist attacks) and 4/27/2011 in Alabama (major tornadoes all overall the state), there was a recognition of the poor state of emergency services communications interoperability.

So, bandwidth use efficiency and the need for interoperability between large sectors of emergency services and first responders together drove requirements for replacement of old analog radios by newer digital packet-switching, but also analog backwards compatible radios.

As might be expected, these radios are expensive, often by a factor of 10. Because of the state and federal mandates, Marshall County has been developing and building out new radio towers and making plans to have the digital infrastructure to support a new “smart” first responder radio network.

This will cost a lot of money not just to build but to operate as Marshall County will have to pay for digital data services to Madison County, which operates a regional network hub supporting several counties.

These are just a few of the funding needs and on top of routine expense for utilities, fuel, PPE, training expenses, fire retardant foam, and re-inspection and maintenance of equipment like our air bottle refiller and SCBA bottles necessary for firefighter safety.

Q. Why should I pay this fee?

A. If you live in our fire district, you need the RVFD – a better RVFD.

Some folks might say “Arab Fire will come if I call” or “Arab showed up when I had a fire and I never saw Ruth.”

Yes, that may be true, but Arab Fire shows up because Ruth has a fire department and we have reciprocal support agreements. Arab Fire is a paid department and can afford to have 24/7 coverage.

However, the RVFD answers fire calls and has answered calls in Arab to support Arab Fire. If the RVFD did not exist, Arab Fire might come, but Arab Fire will never take the Ruth Fire District into its area of full responsibility because doing so would be detrimental to the ISO Ratings in Arab, which is responsible for homeowners’ insurance rates.

This would result in higher homeowners insurance premiums in Arab and is highly unlikely unless areas are brought into the city limits and subject to full city property taxes.

So, we are very grateful for the support of the Arab Fire Department, but it is not a replacement for the RVFD any time soon.

On the positive side, if the RVFD fire protection fee is approved by voters, and a substantially greater and assured revenue base is established, we can begin moving from subsistence to begin a campaign of major improvements.

With steady and substantial funding, in a few years we could save the match money to try for a fire engine grant again or perhaps directly buy a used, but less antiquated vehicle like a tanker.

Longer term, possible plans might include setting aside a fund to gradually build out fire hydrant coverage in the district or maybe even paying a salary to have a full-time fire-fighter during daylight hours when volunteers are often away at work.

Lastly, more than fire protection, the RVFD is part of the community and we do more than answer fire, car accident and basic life support calls. When there is stormy weather and trees are down on the road, we get the call and are often the first ones on the scene with a chain saw to clear those trees.

If more people pitch in just a little, $5 a month, we can sustain and improve this resource that benefits a lot of people who don’t contribute and may or may not know that they do benefit.

We appreciate the support of great volunteers and contributors and hope that the Ruth Community supports the RVFD by voting in favor of local referendum.

For more information: George Winborne, 256-783-6781 or ruthvolfd@gmail.com.

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