Amburgy, who threatened to prohibit the use of tax-funded fire stations for Election Day polling if the court didn’t provide payment for the use — a move that violates Kentucky state law — alleged unfair treatment for being required to explain expenses to the court.
An ordinance passed last summer requires the BCVFD to make financial requests before the court as an effort to create an “unprecedented level of transparency,” according to Bell County Fiscal Court Judge Albey Brock. At the time, he cited a bad audit BCVFD received in 2007, and the consistent dissent of the department with decisions made by the court.
At a Fiscal Court meeting in June 2010, Brock told Amburgy that the county could help the BCVFD cut expenses by utilizing county resources. Using the county garage to repair BCVFD vehicles and county inmates to cut grass at the six stations was suggested. But this year, Amburgy again requested thousands of dollars in labor costs for vehicle repairs and grass cutting.
After Amburgy repeatedly claimed that the BCVFD was being “singled out,” he asked of the other entities like the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, “Why ain’t they got a representative here like me?”
“Because they’re not asking us for $2,400 to cut their grass, Roy,” Judge Brock responded.
Brock said that other entities are also required to keep documentation of expenses and present them as requested. Amburgy indicated that the refusal to use city resources was the result of a conflict between the department and the Fiscal Court.
“At that time (summer 2010) if you hadn’t of done us wrong and by taking our name out of the ordinance, you’d be cutting the grass,” said Amburgy.
Last summer, the court filed a restraining order in Bell County Circuit Court that prohibited the closure of fire stations after Amburgy stated in a Fiscal Court meeting that stations may close if the court refused to approve the $496,798.47 budget he asked for, a budget four times larger than the approved budget at the time. A breach of contract suit was also filed by Brock claiming breach of contract for not providing adequate fire protection for the county. At the time, the suit stated that it was believed that the BCVFD had “approximately $400,000 on hand and has sufficient funds to operate the fire stations threatened to be closed."
Amburgy referred to the breach of contract suit as “about the silliest known suit that you can come up with.”
The court moved to table votes on allowing labor costs and grass cutting costs to be reimbursed until the BCVFD board decided whether or not to use county resources in the future to save on costs. A committee of magistrates will review the need for hoses that were also requested.
Costs that were not approved for reimbursements included late fees for telephone and electric bills and expenses for which proper documentation was not submitted. Documentation may still be submitted for payment of the denied charges. Water and electric bills at the Clear Creek Fire Station will be reimbursed by Amburgy who is living at the station. Those are the only charges he is required to pay there.
The BCVFD submitted a request for new breathing apparatus, although the current air tanks do not expire, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — a federal agency charged with enforcing safety and health legislation, until 2014. Amburgy said that he wanted to give the court “plenty of time” to consider the request. To fund new tanks, Amburgy asked for $93,240. Brock said that tanks had been found for a lower price.
“With very little research we were able to find those same tanks for $73,444.50,” Brock said.
Amburgy responded that the figure he submitted was “just an approximation” of what the price might be in the future. He also said that he preferred to replace the brand currently used.
“Them are the best, them are the most reliable,” he contended.
Magistrate Coye Silcox interjected, asking, “Judge, don’t they all have to meet the certain specifications regardless of what company they come from?”
The judge responded that the equipment did meet OSHA standards and after additional objections to purchasing a different brand from Amburgy and a firefighter in the audience, he declared: “We wouldn’t put you in non-quality.”
The issue will be further addressed in the future.
Brock also provided slides of photographs taken that appeared to show the misuse of a BCVFD vehicle. The SUV, paid for with tax payer money, was shown hauling a load of lumber down U.S. Highway 119. Amburgy, who could not explain the use, was more concerned that a “spy” was monitoring the activities of the BCVFD and demanded repeatedly to be told who took the picture. Brock said that he had taken it with his cell phone on his way to a scrap yard.
“So you took it. You the one spying!” Amburgy exclaimed, later adding: “I don’t understand something we’re here to discuss finances that I submitted, why are we discussing spying pictures?”
Brock answered that the picture was taken on a public roadway and that the issue was relevant since tax money was requested for the vehicle’s upkeep.
“In these documents you made a request for fuel, you made the request for an alternator to be replaced on that vehicle. You’re going to make a request for tires in the future and service and various things,” he said.
Brock also addressed an issue between the BCVFD and the Bell County Election Commission, as requested by the commission. Amburgy sent a letter to the commission stating that fire stations could not be used as polling places for future elections.
“This letter is to inform you that due to the failure to make payment for the use of our stations and for the false accusations made toward one of our members of the fire department, during the board meeting held June 14, 2011, our Board of Directors has voted that this department will no longer be allowing the use of our stations during any elections in the future,” the letter read.
The Election Commission contended, via Brock, that the request for payment violates Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 117.065, which states that “The county board of elections shall have the authority to designate as voting places without cost to the board, buildings constructed in whole or in part with tax revenues.”
Bell County Clerk Becky Blevins explained that local schools and the Middlesboro Fire Department do not receive payment for the use of their facilities either. This did not settle the matter. Amburgy requested an official letter from County Attorney Neil Ward, who was present and agreed to send one confirming that legal status of the KRS in question. Amburgy said that he would still consult with the BCVFD attorneys as well.
Brock told Amburgy that he could not believe that he was threatening to close the stations during the next election in November which includes the race for Kentucky governor.
“The taxpayer has built every brick and mortar and roof in that thing and they’re entitled to vote in it. Okay? That ought to be how you feel, but it’s not,” Brock asserted.
Amburgy responded that the situation started when the court “ignored that first bill” sent by the BCVFD.
Blevins also pointed out that at a prior election, the Arjay station was without heat and that the floor was covered in mud. She said four commissioners nearly walked out. Amburgy said the lack of volunteers had left the area neglected and asked for the names of the commissioners who made the accusations. Blevins did not provide them.
Lorie Settles is a staff writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. She may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.