Two representatives from Search and Rescue, Josh Davis and Adam Johnson, came to the meeting asking for some funding to help the organization keep operating. Right now the volunteer organization, which works with the Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office, survives on fundraisers, Davis told the commission members. But some setbacks have left the group unable to meet all its needs, he said.
The main truck the members use has blown a tire, both the organization’s boats need tune ups and the motors need upgrades and repairs. Also, some of the members do not have pagers and radios, and they have to be reached by phone, Davis said.
The organization’s insurance bill is also coming due in September, and the money just isn’t available to pay for it, he said.
“We’ve hit a wall, and now we’re asking y’all for some help,” Davis said.
Commissioner Emmett Owen asked if the commission could commit some tobacco tax funding to the organization. The commission members receive a portion of the tobacco tax funds to use in their districts. Owen said he could give some of that money to the group.
“There’s $27,000 left of that funding left for District 2,” Owen said, referring to his district.
County Administrator Steve Swafford said tobacco tax proceeds can be used for outdoor recreation, and the argument could be made that search and rescue supports outdoor recreation. For instance if a hiker got lost on a trail or there were a boating accident, Search and Rescue would respond, he said.
“However, I would encourage you to use caution from an equity standpoint,” Swafford said. “Say that we’re going to support Cleburne County Search and Rescue. But we might not support Cane Creek Fire Department.”
Owen asked if the organization was licensed through the state. He said he believes there is state funding available, but the organization has to be licensed to receive it.
Davis said he was unaware of the status of the organization.
“I don’t attend as many meetings as I want to because of classes,” Davis said. “But I haven’t heard anything about getting a license.”
Revenue Commissioner Joyce Fuller was at the meeting and said the legislation to which Owen was referring did not pass the Alabama Legislature.
She was familiar with the legislation because it would have created a $2 voluntary donation listed on the property tax bill, which her office sends out, she said. She thinks the legislation was going to be filed again for the upcoming session, Fuller said.
Owen asked if the 2 mill property tax that is currently collected by Cleburne County could be used to help fund the search and rescue group. Fuller said that tax was established by state legislation and is collected for the fire departments specifically. It couldn’t be changed except by new legislation.
“I really have a concern about our Search and Rescue,” Owen said. “These guys are coming here serious about whether we’re going to have a search and rescue funded next year.”
Swafford said the county could look into new local legislation adding a 2 mill property tax that could be distributed among the fire departments and the search and rescue group.
The 2 mill property tax currently brings in about $198,000, Fuller said. That is split evenly among the 12 fire departments in the county, she said. There is also a 2 mill tax on car tags collected by the Probate Office, but she was unsure how much that typically brought in, Fuller said.
If the commission were to hold a referendum for a new 2 mill tax, it could specify how the money will be handed out, Swafford said. It could be split on a per call basis or by population, and it could include search and rescue, he said.
“There is no truer form of democracy than a referendum,” said Commissioner Bobby Brooks.
The commission members asked Swafford to draft sample legislation for their review.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.