The Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services will hold a hearing Jan. 12, 2006, on the funding needs of rural fire departments in Oklahoma in the wake of the wildfires that have burned more than 360,000 acres and destroyed more than 200 homes and businesses since Nov. 1, according to Sub-Committee Chairman Jeff Rabon.
The hearing will coincide with the annual performance review of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, the Senator explained, and is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 12 in Room 419C at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
State officials said Rural Fire Departments across Oklahoma will receive the balance of their Fiscal Year 2006 state operational grants in checks from the Agriculture Department next week.
“Cash-strapped rural fire departments need these funds to pay for things like gasoline and repairs to their equipment as they continue to battle heroically against wildfires,” said Rabon, D-Hugo. “In the wake of the wildfires, however, the needs of our rural fire departments far exceed these annual operational grants. Thursday’s hearing will provide important information to members of the sub-committee when we consider supplemental and additional funding for rural fire departments during the coming legislative session.”
The Chairman said that, in additional to representatives from the Agriculture Department, the hearing would also feature rural fire department officials and at least one rural fire coordinator.
In 2005, Senate Democrats led the push to increase funding for rural fire departments by $500,000. The additional funding meant that the operational grants for each of the 875 rural fire departments in the state would increase from $500 in Fiscal Year 2006. A shortage of cash, however, meant that departments have only received $600 of the operational grant money so far.
Without those funds, the expense of fighting the wildfires has left many fire departments literally broke, Rabon explained.
Six months into the new fiscal year, the senator said, the state now has cash available and at the urging of Senate Democrats and Gov. Brad Henry, the Office of State Finance and the Agriculture Department have worked out a plan that will allow rural fire departments to receive the balance of their operational grants next week.
“This money couldn’t come at a better time for rural fire departments, but we know that it won’t meet all their needs. Thursday’s hearing will give us a better idea what additional funding we are going to need to find for rural fire departments next session,” Rabon said.
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