Commissioners question purchase by county fire chief

Updated: Jan 5

MOUND CITY – The issue of where to store fire equipment that had been housed in the former fire department raised its head again at the Linn County Commission meeting on Monday, Dec. 13.

Earlier this fall the commission voted to deed the building over to Linn County Rural Water District No. 1. Commission Chair Rick James said the building, which had been used for storage by the Linn County Fire District No. 1, was empty and could be given to RWD No. 1.

However, county Fire Chief Doug Barlet told commissioners then that the fire department had been told to remove equipment from the building so it could be used to temporarily store items taken out of the former La Cygne Senior Center. He said that equipment that was stored there was temporarily housed at stations around the county until the space became available again.

Commissioners at that time instructed Barlet to use available space at a building in Prescott to store equipment, but Barlet said that wasn’t a practical solution because that building was too remote.

During Barlet’s report on Monday, Dec. 13, Commissioner Jim Johnson asked Barlet about the purchase of a trailer that was listed on the claims to be paid.

Barlet said that they had purchased the enclosed trailer to store equipment used to extract a victim from a grain bin. That equipment had been stored at the old fire station. He said that when the fire department lost the storage at the old fire station at La Cygne, it had to have somewhere to store that equipment.

Johnson pointed out that commissioners had talked about storing it at the old building at Prescott, said Johnson. He then asked Commission Chair Rick James if he knew anything about the purchase but James replied that he did not.

There’s a 6-foot-by-8-foot trailer on the claims, said Johnson, adding that he had some questions about it. Did the county get the best bang for our buck or did we just shoot it up to $5,000?

Barlet said that he had Deputy Fire Chief Dee Horttor get a bid from Mound City-based Neal Manufacturing, which is a local in-county trailer company.

There was nothing in the building they deeded over for a long time, said James, adding that he didn’t know why it wasn’t stored there. He said he did not know anything about a trailer because the county normally gets bids for trailers, but the damage is done now.

The trailer gives us a way to store that equipment, keep it protected and deploy it, said Barlet.

He said the main problems with storing equipment at Prescott is that the county has only five firefighters there. Those firefighters have jobs and aren’t available all of the time like in other stations.

Johnson said that La Cygne was at the other end of the county too, so he did not think the county gained anything by moving the equipment there instead of at Prescott.

Barlet answered if it is in La Cygne or Pleasanton, the fire department has gained the ability to get it anywhere in the county because those two stations can get somebody out with the equipment anytime of day or night. As compared to Prescott or Centerville or some of the other stations that have very limited personnel and don’t always have somebody available to respond.

The same thing is true with the boats, he said. The department can’t put its boats in Prescott because there is nobody with training there to respond with them. Storing them down there is great if we have the storage, but if it isn’t practical, what does the department do?

If the department sends somebody from La Cygne to Prescott to get the boat and go back to the La Cygne Power Plant Lake, it does not make sense. The department can’t get a timely response and all of our people that are trained are in Mound City or La Cygne.

But Johnson kept on returning to the question of spending the money.

“Did you just run it up to what your limit was and my question was did we get the best bang for our buck?” asked Johnson.

James said that he could understand that Barlet could think that it was a necessity, but he did not get bids on it.

Barlet again pointed that the department bought it from a Linn County vendor instead of going out and getting several bids.

County Commissioner Danny McCullough asked if Barlet proceeded like that because of the limit that the commission allows him.

If it is under $5,000 then the department head has the authority to do it, and that is why the department did it that way, said Barlet. If it had been over $5,000, a request would have been made to the commissioners.

Horttor picked the size of the trailer to do what he wanted it to do and accomplish what he wanted to accomplish, said Barlet.

If we are going to continue to question things, maybe we should change the limit, said McCullough.

Barlet said years ago the limit was $1,000 and the fire department came in here anytime it was going to spend more than that. The department always got permission and always followed the rules.

The fire chief said he didn’t think the public ever understood that when he was here every week spending a $1,000. That was money that is in the department’s budget, and it is approved to be spent for given projects, generally speaking, but the department still came in and got permission as it was supposed to.

It makes it look like the department is spending money all the time because the rules were being followed, Barlet said. The fire department has done that for the 14 years that he has been here and it has taken a lot of grief for spending money all the time when it has literally been trying to spend the money commissioners have approved in its budget.

And if the department goes back to a $1,000 as its limit, we are going to be here all the time, he said. Because with seven fire stations, if the department buys a piece of equipment, it will be over that $1,000 limit. He told commissioners they well know the problem, because there have been discussions about being beat up over it.

Johnson said, “It’s the taxpayers’ money and they need to know what we are spending it for, Doug.”

Johnson said he had bought a few trailers in his life, and he questioned why it was brought right up to the limit without coming and talking to the commission about it.

James suggested the department could rearrange some equipment to put those boats somewhere else, however, he suggested that the discussion be left at that before things got too heated.

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