Esto Fire Chief Cliff Kimble expressed frustrations with a drop in the Esto Fire Department budget funding during a Town Council meeting on March 19.

“When people outside Esto or the Town Council are coming up to me, saying, hey, do you know your budget got cut?” Kimble said. “Really? We’re like, what? We didn’t even get informed by Council. We got informed by an outsider that our budget is getting cut.”

In a follow-up email Town Clerk Ben Tew sent to Kimble after the meeting, Tew said the town would contribute a total of $13,000 and the county was expected to contribute $15,000.

“The council had to amend the budget in February to meet changing revenues and expenditures,” Tew said in the email. “If the budget doesn’t change anymore, the Fire Department will receive $4,537.50 from Fire Protection Fees and $4,000.00 from Town donations. It will be a total of $8,537.50. This added to the $11,250 from the county would make a total annual budget of $19,787.51.”

“We’re trying to hire somebody else but we’re cutting emergency services,” Kimble said, referencing the Town Council looking into creating a new town administrator position. “It makes no sense to me.”

Councilmember Josh Davenport said that part makes sense since the town administrator can advocate for Esto at Holmes County Board of County Commissioners meetings.

“Have y’all taken the lead and went down there during one of the County Commissioners meetings during the budget?” Kimble said.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it, to have time?” Davenport said.

Davenport further said a letter from the Town of Esto was sent to the BOCC. 

“Crickets,” Davenport said. “No response. We’re not going to get them to match. Even generously, let’s say, 70% of calls are outside Esto in the county. Why is the county not giving us at least 60%, match us? The county’s not even willing to come up to match us.”

Davenport said he wants the county to match funds.

Tew told Kimble to just keep turning in bills to the town.

“We’ll keep working it out as we go along and look at those needs, if we’ve got to reallocate and re-budget,” Tew said.

The Fire Department budget is “adequate” at meeting their needs, Tew said.

“Some other things are very tight,” Tew said. “After (the March 19 Town Council meeting), there will be $200 in the water works account. If West Florida Electric hadn’t sent in their franchise fee and the state didn’t give us a redistribution for one of their payments today, the general fund would not have money. The Fire Department is well funded, comparatively, to everything else right now.”

Davenport said he and Kimble can go to a BOCC meeting together to advocate for Esto. 

“Push comes to shove, your trucks’s broken, we’re going to fix it,” Davenport said to Kimble. “We’re not going to leave you stranded but we need to get this fixed.”

As emphasized by councilmembers during the meeting, the Town Council will not allow the fire department to be unable to meet bills, Tew said to Kimble.

“If y’all’s account runs empty, more money will be approved,” Tew said. “After the March bills are paid, the EVFD account will have a balance of $4,559.15.”

The Town Council identified two power meters at the park that aren’t being used and are unlikely to be needed, so they closing those utility accounts. That decision was made during the meeting after Kimble left.

“Those power meters are the ones the EVFD pays for,” Tew said in the email. “So the Fire Department account will see a savings of ~$115 each month.”

In other Esto Fire Department news, Kimble said there have been grant applications filed, including one for a new station. Kimble floated the possibility of the Esto junkyard being sold and the location being used to house a new station, which Town Council officials are open to. 

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