Shelby Township Board stays with New Marion Fire Dept.
WANDA ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTO
In response to the New Marion VFD not getting financial help from Shelby Township, a public meeting was called to vote on the contract. (First story was published February 28, 2023 in the Osgood Journal entitled: Attorney says New Marion VFD is not compliant.
How can a fire department that has been dissolved with the State be voted to continue to service a township?
That was the question at the end of the meeting for Shelby Township after their Board voted unanimously to have New Marion Volunteer Fire Department to continue to serve the Shelby Township. The meeting was open to the public and held Tuesday, March 7 in the Annex Building, Versailles.
“This has been dissolved since 2010,” Attorney John Ertel warned the Board. John Meisberger, made the motion to give the contract to New Marion VFD anyway, and board members Cheryl Welch and Marilyn Hance agreed. There was little discussion amongst the Board with only Cheryl saying maybe they should give a short contract to Holton until the situation with New Marion is resolved.
Shelby Trustee Vickie Taylor waived the red flag initially when she found out that the New Marion VFD has not been compliant with several issues.
The department had hired an attorney, Will Goehring of Vevay, to represent them. As a municipal attorney for several years and firefighter himself for 40 years, Goehring said he understands situations such as these. He agreed that while the Department had filed some of the paperwork that was in question, there were others that were not complaint. “We will have this resolved by April 1,” he noted.
However, Attorney Ertel didn’t think it would be that quick of a fix and continued to advise the Board and Township Trustee not to sign a contract with New Marion VFD. The attorney cautioned that getting reinstated with the State could take a while.
While the fire department has not been compliant with the Secretary of State and is listed as dissolved for more than five years, Attorney Goehring said, “We’re going to ask them to waive that.” He noted the department was still “fully operational” even though they aren’t compliant with the State and do not have a signed contract from Shelby Township for funding.
The matter of the Department being incorporated or not incorporated didn’t seem to be a big deal with their attorney, who said he would take care of the paperwork.
When questioned about their turn-out gear and if that was in compliance with state mandates, it was noted that they have the gear ordered and it should be in by the summer.
When asked about the Department’s ISO rating, Chief Charlie Meisberger didn’t think it was a big deal, saying his house is rated an 8 and he lives next door to where the fire department’s equipment is housed. He said there is an ISO Status meeting coming up soon.
Attorney Ertel asked if the Department was in compliance as some indicated at the meeting, then why did they hesitate to provide paperwork showing that. “What’s been the resistance to provide information? Why the stone wall?” Ertel asked. The question was not answered.
John Meisberger (board member) said the Department wasn’t notified from the State about not having the proper paperwork. The Department doesn’t have email, but John said he’s had it for the past couple of years. He also served on the fire department for 50 years, having been on the roster until recently when he resigned. He has served on the Shelby Township Board for the past seven years at least, according to prior Trustee, Phil Morgan.
“I’m sure the fire department has never known (they weren’t compliant with the State), John Meisberger reiterated throughout the near hour-long meeting.
Board member Welch noted that last year they gave the Department the contract with the idea they would have things straightened out. What needed to be straightened out was not disclosed at this meeting.
Not getting the funds from the Township was discussed with Attorney Ertel advising the Trustee she couldn’t give the funds without a contract. While the Board decided they wanted the New Marion VFD to represent the township, Trustee Taylor said, “It’s the board’s decision, I’m out of it.” She said she will follow the advice of Attorney Ertel.
John Meisberger said they voted in December to give the New Marion VFD the contract for 2023, but Taylor pointed out that was illegal. This brought about some ill remarks against Taylor, but Attorney Ertel shut them down saying, “She’s been doing her job.”
For the benefit of the community, the Department was asked to “Get their ducks in a row and get it done.”
Trustee Taylor noted, “Get compliant and move forward.”
Taylor said she has no beef with New Marion Volunteer Fire Department members but has to follow the law. She says being compliant goes deeper than paperwork and extends to their turn-out gear, training, equipment, transparency with financial information and more.
It was agreed that some transparency from the Department would be good and they have to have a budget that is open to the Trustee, among other paperwork. The two entities have to work together for the good of the people they serve.
Melvin Meisberger, who was in on the initial start-up of the department in 1972, said he hates to see things the way they are. “We had several houses burn in 1971 and realized we needed to have help closer than Versailles. They (Versailles VFD at that time) were very instrumental in helping get us started,” he shared.
Editor’s Note: It is vital that all the local fire departments work together in such a rural community. What was evident in the nearly full room was a passion for what they do – help others.