16 Feb Brown Co. Trustee: Fire Department ‘Holding Our County Hostage’
Brown County could lose tens of thousands of dollars in grant money if it doesn’t resolve a legal battle with a volunteer fire department.
The issues started when the Van Buren Township Volunteer Fire Department refused to provide financial records to Township Trustee Vickie Payne. Payne says she’s required to file those records with the state, which left the township with few options.
The township board decided to end its contract with the Van Buren Volunteer Fire Department and start a new one to cover the same territory. But the building the new department wants to use still belongs to the Van Buren Department.
An Office of Community and Rural Affairs, or OCRA, grant helped build the station. Until the dispute is resolved, Brown County can no longer apply for new grants.
Payne says the dispute has already cost Brown County $40,000.
“I feel like the fire department is holding our county hostage right now,” Payne says.
The Van Buren Fire Department still occupies the building with a single firefighter, who also serves as fire chief, but is not currently providing services. The fire chief is overseen by a pair of board members.
OCRA has given Brown County three options to resolve the situation: return the building back to its original use as a fire station, find another use for the property, or repay OCRA the building’s fair market value, estimated at $400,000.
The county has until March 5 to find a resolution.