Local law enforcement, fire officials respond to changes in House Bill 60

Published 8:05 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bill would increase funding to officers, fire fighters and volunteer departments

Local fire and law enforcement workers are watching as the Kentucky Senate makes its decision regarding House Bill 60, an act relating to supplements paid to police officers, professional firefighters and qualified volunteer departments. 

The bill would “increase the annual supplement paid to qualified police officers out of the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program fund from $3,000 to $4,000,” “increase the annual supplement paid to qualified professional firefighters out of the Firefighters Foundation Program fund from $3,000 to $4,000,” and “increase the annual allotment to qualified volunteer fire departments from $8,250 to $11,000.”

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The last increases were in 1999, according to a history in the bill.

The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

Stipend increases for paid departments

The increases are “important for the officers,” said Danville Police Chief Tony Gray. It’s been about 10 years, he said, since the stipend has increased, but the number of continuing education hours needed have grown. 

Boyle County Sheriff Derek Robbins agreed the needed training has increased.

“It was a 10-week academy, and it was a 16-week in 2002, when I went. Now it’s 22 (weeks). You still have continuing education and online training that you keep up with,” Robbins said.

To get the stipend, officers have to complete 40 hours of training a year, and there are also other trainings that are mandated every few years. It’s an encouragement, Gray said, for officers to keep  up-to-date through continuing education.

“I’d be hard-pressed to say you could find another state that has the requirements that we have in the state of Kentucky to be POPS-certified, which is the police officers professional standards certification that you get,” Robbins said. “I’m glad that the state is recognizing that level of training and they’re trying to up the ante and compensate a little more. To me, it just helps ensure that you’re producing professional police officers.”

Danville Fire Chief Ken Pflug said cities with full-time fire departments receive funding, which is then given to members on top of their paychecks. A resolution increased the amount to $4,000 last year, he said, and this bill simply gives that increase permanency.

“I hope it goes through,” he said. 

Firefighters have to have 100 training hours a year to receive the funding, Pflug said. It’s important not because it’s an extra monetary incentive, but because it ensures that the firefighters are getting the training they need, he said.

“If you look at the fire service (compared to) 20-30 years ago when I started, the training that’s required and the technical finesse to keep the skills up is increasingly more difficult and more time-consuming,” he said. “They are certified, trained professionals, and continually keeping that up each year.”

The last time the paid departments saw an increase in the stipend was in 1999, Pflug said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Aide increases for volunteer departments

For volunteer departments, the bill is an especially good thing, said Perryville Fire Chief Anthony Young. Those departments that qualify currently receive $8,250 a year from the Kentucky Fire Commission. This would increase that funding.

The departments can use the money to purchase turnout gear, equipment, hoses, nozzles, new apparatus — basically anything of necessity, Young said. It can’t be used to purchase new shirts or extras.

“It’s a really good program,” Young said. “There are good checks and balances.”

Last year, for example, he used the funding to purchase three new sets of turnout gear for three new firefighters.

“We spent $6,000 on three sets of turnout gear — coats and pants. They were $2,000 apiece,” he said. “That’s what we use our state aid for a lot at Perryville — for turnout gear.”

The funding is very important for the smaller departments, he said.

“Nobody should argue that it’s a bad thing,” Young said. “When you look at a town or fire department like Perryville or Junction City, the needs you have are no different than a Lexington, or a Louisville, or a Cincinnati — just on a smaller scale.”

There are departments, Young said, that don’t receive any funding from a city, unlike the Perryville and Junction City fire departments.

“There’s a lot of departments that operate on donations alone to keep the doors open. State aid funding is very important for a department like that,” Young said. “Perryville’s a small city; (it) has a small budget. The city always provides as much as they can for the fire department.”

Cory Kitchen, chief of the Junction City Fire Department, said that the money helps all departments. 

“It helps buy some equipment that you would have to get a loan for or wait an extra year to save money to buy. It’s endless, once you think about it,” Kitchen said. “It provides a better opportunity for the smaller departments to stay up-to-date with the new equipment that’s coming out and the new mandates.”

Boyle County Fire Chief Donnie Sexton agreed that the smaller departments would feel the effects of the increase more. Sexton said the bill would help them purchase more equipment.

“That’s another $3,00 to buy what we need to fight fire with,” Sexton said.

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.