Cass County may loan up to $368,000 to help bail the county fire district out of its financial troubles, officials said this week.
The move will only be considered if council members first decide not to allow Cass County Fire District No. 1 to get money from an outside lender.
But the fire district’s board president prefers getting the money from the county over seeking outside funding.
The district is seeking emergency funding after the state Department of Local Government Finance rejected its budget this year.
The Cass County Council, which governs the county’s money, will meet Friday to decide whether to allow the fire district to take out an emergency loan of the same amount from an outside lender. A public hearing on the matter has been scheduled for that time.
However, the council has already scheduled a special meeting for April 27 to consider making its own, no-interest loan.
Council President George Stebbins said that’s in case the council decides not to give the fire district permission to seek an outside lender.
“That is, if the county, in any way, shape or form, is going to loan them money or help them, we have to advertise before that can occur,” Stebbins said. “Before we can appropriate the money, we have to give proper public notice.”
Stebbins said that loan, if approved, would come from the County Economic Development Income Tax, or CEDIT, fund, the county’s Rainy Day fund and/or the county’s public safety fund.
As of Tuesday, the CEDIT fund had a balance of $3.2 million, the Rainy Day fund had $1.6 million and the public safety fund had nearly $254,000, according to the county auditor’s office.
Bridget Enyeart, president of the fire district board, said she supports the loan from the county
Unlike the outside lender option — which will cost taxpayers in Eel, Noble and Clay townships an additional 22 cents per $100 valuation on top of the district’s proposed 33-cent tax rate — the county loan would have to be paid back in 10 years as opposed to one year with the emergency loan.
“For the taxpayer’s benefit, I prefer the county to help us out because it’s not going to be a separate tax burden for them,” Enyeart said.
The fire district board voted unanimously last week to seek the emergency loan. Officials have estimated the state’s budget rejection left the district more than $300,000 short of meeting expenses this year.
Sen. Randy Head proposed legislation, which was approved, to allow the fire district board to take out its own loan with the approval of the Cass County Council.
This would be the second loan the fire district received from the county in less than two years.
The county loaned $186,420 from CEDIT funds in 2010 for firefighting equipment such as boots, radios, pike poles, hoses and bunker coats.
The terms of that 10-year, no-interest loan, which became effective January 2011, call for the fire district to begin making payments back to the county in 2015, Enyeart said.
She said she does not know which way Friday’s vote will go, but she knows the goal is to have the district pay the obligations it has to New Waverly Fire Department and its staff members.
“In all actuality, none of us knows how this is going to turn out,” Enyeart said. “I’m going to proceed the way I have to proceed, and that’s asking for this emergency loan.”
As for Friday’s meeting, Stebbins said the council will stick to task it advertised.
“The only vote that would be possible would be a vote to allow them to take out a loan,” he said. “We might find out on Friday what the consensus is, but we can’t vote on what we can do for the county helping them until the 27th.
“So, I’m not even sure if we can talk about it on the 20th because we can’t really make any votes or anything like that if they get help from the county.”
• Jason M. Rodriguez is news editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5117 or email@example.com.