Simpson Says Dedicated Funds Collected, Should Be Appropriated for Their Intended Purposes
LONGVIEW – Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) filed a budget rider on Friday to restore funding of $30 million annually for training and equipment for our Volunteer Fire Departments (VFDs) across the state.
The Volunteer Fire Fighter Assistance Fund comes from a tax on property and casualty insurers based on premiums for homeowner, fire, farm and ranch, and other insurance policies. The current balance in that dedicated account is $59 million. By the end of the current fiscal year and biennium, it is anticipated that the fund will have over $80 million available.
As with the previous budget, the present budget plans to appropriate only $13.5 million annually for the use of VFDs. The 2009-2010 biennial budget included $30 million annually. Under the present plan, the remainder of the fund would be held back to be used to certify the budget.
The Simpson rider would provide that $30 million annual be appropriated for use for VFDs – directing the use of the funds to the purpose for which they were collected.
During the recent wildfires, our volunteer fire departments were understaffed and not adequately supplied, resulting in the need to call in out-of-state contractors. As a result, the supplemental appropriations bill HB 1025 includes a reimbursement to the Texas Forest Service of $161,065,711 for additional costs incurred beyond what was previously budgeted. The result of underfunding VFDs was extra expense instead of savings.
Simpson said, “Brave men and women from our communities spend their time and effort protecting us from wildfires and fires in our homes. This is a vital, core function of government and we need to ensure that firemen are well trained and equipped properly. There are more than enough funds dedicated to this purpose if we would just appropriate them.”
“Regrettably though there has been a long-standing practice of disallowing the use of such dedicated funds for their intended purpose in order to certify the budget and allow for other spending,” Simpson continued. “The taxes are already being collected specifically for this purpose. It's time to use our taxes for their intended purpose and make the core functions our priority.”
According to the Texas Forest Service, VFDs constitute 72% of all fire departments in the state. If combination departments are also counted, that number rises to 86%.
Volunteer fire departments and combination fire departments in District 7 include: Clarksville City – Warren City VFD, Easton VFD, Elderville-Lakeport VFD, Gladewater FD, Judson Metro VFD, Kilgore FD, Sabine VFD, White Oak VFD, Bettie VFD, City of Big Sandy VFD, Diana VFD, East Mountain VFD, Ewell VFD, Gilmer FD, Glenwood VFD, Harmony Consolidated VFD, Lafayette VFD, New Mountain VFD, Ore City VFD, Pleasant Grove VFD, Pritchett VFD, Simpsonville, VFD, West Mountain VFD.
Representative Simpson serves House District 7, which is comprised of Gregg and Upshur Counties.