With the troubles brought up at the county commission meeting on August 3 concerning the St. James-Lanark Volunteer Fire Department, it was decided to invite the community to attend the monthly meeting on August 12 at the St. James-Lanark Firehouse.
The attendance was good, considering the threat of COVID again rearing its ugly head. It was attended by residents of Lanark, St. James, SummerCamp and surrounding areas. We came to get some answers from the fire department board and Commissioner Bert Boldt, and to educate the public that we are in crisis which threatens the future of the St. James-Lanark department.
If you have heard anything, you have heard allegations made against the St. James-Lanark Fire Department from the county commission meeting. At that meeting, commissioners weighed a proposal floated by County Attorney Michael Shuler to consider ending the fire district and dividing the firefighting duties between the Carrabelle and Alligator Point departments.
The discussion considered long-running problems within the department that range from shoddy operations to the possible illegal use of funds. A recent county-ordered audit of the department’s books found problems which have been turned over to the sheriff’s office for further investigation.
The commission discussion said that at one point, the county had to evict the fire chief from living in the fire house and when he refused to leave they had to have the water cut off. There have also been reports of the fire department being called and not responding, including a situation in which a citizen was trapped in a damaged vehicle.
Shuler asked commissioners to meet with the departments to see whether his proposal is feasible and what it will take to make it happen.
Boldt said he would oppose ending the district and that the county must show leadership on this issue and should declare an emergency safety issue and have the state fire marshal come in.
The board said the first step will be to reach out to the neighboring fire departments to see what they can do in the short term.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said the fire department starts and ends within the community and feels commissioner Boldt should hold a workshop in Lanark Village to express his frustrations to the citizens. Parrish said if they don’t care enough about the fire department then he doubts there is much the county or the fire marshal can do.
The residents asked about these issues at the fire department board meeting. The board’s treasurer, George Briesacker, advised that most of what was being said was old news and had been resolved. He said Fire Chief David Curry is operating with a limited drivers license, but that he does not drive the firefighting vehicles. This was verified by those in the department and two deputies from the sheriff’s department.
Also, the fact was brought up that the department covers as first responders for all accidents.
There are still issues that need to be resolved, such as the past due water bill which was originally the responsibility of Weems Memorial Hospital. The Carrabelle Water Department has not responded to attempts made by the Lanark fire department to get documents which show dates and usage of this claimed water bill. The fire department is looking at having a water well drilled.
In my opinion, these issues are no reason to dissolve the St. James-Lanark Fire Department. Our fire department has several ideas in the works which might help bring in volunteers. All volunteers don’t have to fight fires, we can show our support by going to meetings and being involved as concerned residents. The fire department will be pumping up their search for volunteers and letting us know what we can do to help.
Another question was Where does the tax money go which is allocated for fire service? In the district in which you live, those Municipal Benefit Service Unit property tax dollars are distributed to each local fire department based on the numbers of taxpayers in that area.
Boldt said he has contacted the state fire marshals office who has put him in touch with Charles Frank, the state coordinator for volunteer fire departments. We are hoping that Frank can meet with the commissioners in a workshop concerning our St. James-Lanark Fire Department, this meeting will be open to the public.
St. James-Lanark Fire Department and the residents want to especially thank the Alligator Point volunteers who attended the meeting. Alligator Point Fire Chief Hugh Hartsfield said we were very lucky to have the department that we have, and lucky to have them as a dependable backup. He said his department had all they could handle, and there was no way they could stretch their boundaries on a permanent basis. They too have a really hard time getting volunteers and are lucky to have those that they have, he said.
Maybe the tourist industry needs to send some of their money to the services of this county. We can’t invite tourists in and not give them protection. That brings me to another issue, maybe the county could go to the tourist industry to fund some enforcement officers; the county is in desperate need of enforcement.
The Lanark Village Boat Club has made the decision to cancel their monthly pancake breakfast slated for Saturday, August 21. There have been some reported cases of COVID in the area and it is not worth taking a chance.
BE BEAR WISE, Get help, report conflicts, know the laws. Call 850-265-3676 and visitwww.myfwc.com/bear.
The Coffee Time is still going strong on Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. at Chillas Hall. On Thursdays, the representative of the Veterans Administration will be there to answer any of your questions. Coffee is free on Thursdays, compliments of the veterans representative.
The American Legion has their cheeseburger/hamburger night. They will be serving these wonderful burgers on Friday nights 5 to 7 p.m. If you want to call ahead, call 850-697-9998. The dining and bar areas are now open; the public is invited. On Sunday evenings, also from 5 to 7 p.m. they serve pizza.
The Lanark Village Golf Club is always open for your fun, easy-going golfing needs. We are the only course on the bay, and you can come spend the day for only $5 per person, and anyone can join for only $50 a year. Also, we rent our sign out for special messages, such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc.
There is Trivia at the Crooked River Grill on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. Many of our Lanark people enjoy this activity. Also, The Crooked River Grill at St. James Bay Golf Resort off Highway 98, east of Lanark Village, invites you to enjoy live music at their new outdoor pavilion on Saturdays at 6 p.m.
Please remember to send me an email or message me on Facebook if you have any questions.
Pat Sewell Funderburk is the Times Lanark News columnist. Be sure to send news and society items about Lanark Village life to her at [email protected]