WEST LIBERTY, Iowa–A sizable crowd gathered at the Muscatine County Fairgrounds’ Activity Center to hear Rural Trustee Richard Brand, West Liberty Fire Chief Kirt Sickels, and attorney William Tharp discuss the issue of the 28E agreement between the fire and ambulance services, the city, and the rural trustees.
Brand spoke first, highlighting the rural trustees concerns with the proceedings regarding the 28E agreement. Brand noted that in December 2020, the City of West Liberty requested to replace the volunteer fire chief with a full time hired chief. Brand expressed concern with the plan, as he believed many volunteers would object to serving under a new hired chief.
In early 2021, Brand said the city entered into talks with the trustees and the department about changing the 28E agreement that allows them to work together. Since its creation in 2007, no parties had ever requested to amend the agreement before. After several months of talks, the parties had not yet reached an agreement, and the trustees requested to stop meeting during April as many of them own farms and needed to plant for the year. Initially, Brand said representatives for the city and the city attorney said they would wait to change the 28E agreement until the following year, as terminations need filing by April 1. However, they changed their stance and stated they would file for termination March 30. Since then, the 28E has remained in effect, but the city and other parties remain at odds about it.
Next, Sickles continued the discussion. A 20-year veteran of the department of chief for the past three years, he expressed disappointment at the sudden tension between the city and department. In the process of renegotiating the 28E, the department requested an accounting of their funds, as the city had denied them requests to draw on them. The department received only a few of their monthly statements, and the accounting appeared vague, as the city keeps the department’s money in the general fund.
Concerned that the department had little control over its finances, Sickels hopes the parties can all agree on changes to the 28Ethat will allow all parties involved to have more of a voice in the financial decision making process. “We want something very different where we don’t have to wait on the city, but everybody’s voice is still heard, and we have some ideas about it, he said. Later in the meeting, Sickels voiced interest in forming a governing board for the department with representatives from the department, city, trustees, and community.
Finally, Tharp discussed his work with the department. Since February, Tharp has provided legal counsel to the department and trustees. July 15, he moved forward with a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the West Liberty Rural Fire District. Though the city moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, a judge denied their request.
As the department continues to work out their next steps, they encourage people to contact the city council and share their thoughts on the importance of supporting the volunteer fire department with them.