Michael White, Mississippi County Quorum Court Justice and a member of the Manila Fire Department spoke to the Manila City Council Thursday night concerning Act 833 money. Act 833 money is allocated for fire departments throughout the state.
He informed the council members that Act 833 was co-authored by Manila City Attorney and former state representative Wayne Wagner. He went on to say that the bill was passed in 1991 providing for the tax collection of one half of one percent on all fire, farm owner, home owner, and vehicle insurance in the state to provide additional money to go to fire departments. This money is deposited into the Fire Protection Revolving Fund in Little Rock for disbursement by the Department of Finance and Administration. Mississippi County gets 1.77 percent of the money collected in the state. The money is divided among the county departments by population. There are 17 departments in the county and Manila receives 4.4361 percent of the county total.
Individual fire departments must certify annually by filling out a three page form and sending it to the Office of Fire Services in the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. White said this is not a new procedure and Manila has been completing and submitting the paperwork for the past 10 years. He went on to explain that all checks to municipal fire departments are sent directly from the department of Finance and Administration to the city treasurer and all checks for the rural fire departments are sent to the county for dispersal. Mississippi County has five rural departments. White said that several fire departments in the state had failed to send in their paperwork to certify and collect their money. In 1995 the fund had accumulated over $1 million in unused funds. Two different attempts were made by the State Legislature to divert some of the unused money in Act 833 to other state projects.
"When the County Judge's Association was informed that the state legislature was considering transferring some of the unused funds to other projects, the Quorum Court, on the recommendation from the Mayor's Council, passed a resolution requiring all fire departments in the county to submit their paperwork to the state by Oct. 31 of each year. Any funds not received by a fire department would be distributed in equal amounts to other fire departments in that county," White said. "As a matter of fact, in 2001 Manila was one of several departments that received additional money because other departments did not submit the paperwork. Quite honestly, we all dropped the ball this past year," White said. "By the time anyone noticed that our paperwork was not in, it was too late. I'm not pointing a finger, we all dropped the ball. It cost us $5,500. That hurts us.
"We have asked the question if the resolution passed is in conflict with the state law. It was not our intention that it would hurt anyone. We did not want the funds in Little Rock lost to the county fire departments. It was done in good faith. Mississippi County is one of 23 counties that passed such an ordinance."
White said Attorney Wagner and other citizens are looking into the possibility the filing deadline set by the Quorum Court may not be legal, and possibility the extra funding received by other fire departments over the past two years might be returned to the departments who lost their funding.
"We've been doing it for 10 years and doing a good job. Don (Nunnally, Manila Fire Chief) has done a good job. We just stumbled this year. Let's try to work together and do the best we can," White said.
The forms are mailed to the department in December from the Office of Fire Services ot the city Treasurer and David Lendennie, Mississippi County Emergency Service coordinator, sends two additional copies in January as a courtesy. One goes to the Mayor's office and one goes to the fire department.
"What you are saying is it would be smart to fill out the paperwork at the first of the year and be done with it," Councilman Terry Carr said.
Manila Police Chief Jackie Hill informed the council that he will be traveling to Orlando, Fla., March 26-30 to attend a training course in the use of a thermal imager. Manila, along with other area departments will be receiving the thermal imager valued at $13,000 free of charge through a program sponsored by the U.S. department of the Army counter-drug technology program. The thermal imager and the training will be provided to the city of Manila at no charge. The thermal imager is used to locate humans or other objects under difficult situations such as building collapses, darkness, or even dense brush. It can also be used in searches, locating victims in burning houses, or even to locate meth or other drug labs.
In other business:
*Hill told council members that the new police vehicle, a Dodge Durango, is in. He said there had been a lot of talk about but the Durango actually cost over $2,000 less than the Crown Victoria.
*Mayor Browning said that the city's part of the Manila court revenue was $11,866 in January and February.
*Councilman Carr said that Jim Cheadle would like to see a public meeting set up with representatives from the highway department to gather information on when and where the highway will be coming through Manila.
*Mayor Browning read a thank you letter from Manila School Superintendent Charolotte Wagner for the assistance and good job done by the Manila Police Department during the District Tournament.
*Attorney Wagner presented the council with an ordinance to set regulations for sewer operations. The regulations are required if the public funding is to be used to construct the sewer expansion. A special council meeting was set for 5 p.m. March 19 to consider the ordinance. Wagner said he had met with attorneys, and state agencies and everything is on target for the expansion.
*A public meeting was set to discuss the sewer expansion at 11 a.m. March 26 at City Hall.
*Water Superintendent Henry Ford talked about the cost of Class 4 waste. The city has no way of weighing what is brought to the transfer station. He said he is not talking about making money, just breaking even with what it costs the city.
*The council discussed the mosquito control and Councilman Carr said he would try to have someone present at the next meeting to talk about the different chemicals and costs.
*Councilman Carr also said that he had talked to people in Little Rock about the possibility of grant/loan money available to help in the construction of the swimming pool.