LEE COUNTY – Lee County Supervisors have found themselves in the middle of a tussle between the Denmark Fire Association and several townships over fire protection services.
Supervisor Tom Schulz has been looking into whether or not a viable 28E agreement exists between the DFA and the townships it has entered into agreements with to provide fire services.
Taxes are collected by the area townships and are apparently funneled to the fire association as part of the agreements.
Howevers it’s hazy as to whether or not the fire associations and townships, including Green Bay, Washington, Denmark, and Wever, actually have 28Es in place.
“I have reason to believe that some townships have entered into a 28E agreement that was never filed with the Secretary of State. We have requested copies of that and have not yet been provided that,” Schulz said.
He said that agreement is similar to the agreement with three townships that has landed the parties in a court battle over assets.
“I have a serious concern that taxpayer dollars may be being spent in a manner that is not in congruence with state statute,” Schulz said.
He said the county needs to officially request a copy of the agreements to head off any potential lawsuits.
Lee County attorney Ross Braden told the board the county could actually be shielded from being able to intervene because the DFA is a 501c4.
“There is a lot of very suspect and problematic moving parts to this,” Braden said. “It’s getting settled out in district court to a certain extent.
“It blows my mind the legislature would have intended townships to be able to shield the county essentially by creating 501c4 entities to funnel taxpayer dollars and purchase fire equipment which is not subject to any reimbursement to townships that withdraw (from the agreements).”
Braden said the tax dollars collected through the townships engaged in the agreements were going straight to Denmark Fire Association without any stipulations as to ownership of assets.
“Everything funneled into the fire association is the property only of that fire association. In this situation one township that was not happy with their representation on that particular governing board chose to withdraw. They were essentially left with nothing because everything was property of the 501c4,” Braden said.
“Likewise, if the county were to come in and assume fire protection duties, there’s a very real possibility those assets purchased with taxpayers' funds would also be shielded from the county.
“It’s a mess.”
Braden said supervisors need to bring the issue to the attention of legislators to get it cleaned up.
“There needs to be some straight oversight on the 28E agreements with not-for-profit fire protection entities to make sure the assets can be shielded from those townships or the county should they choose to step in,” Braden said.
“Another interesting aspect of this is the board of supervisors could take over fire protection services as allowed by statute - given that (the other entities) can’t play nice in the sandbox. This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s kids fighting over toys at the expense of taxpayer dollars. Daddy can’t take the toys away because, at this point, Denmark Fire Association is a shielded entity under a 501c4.”
Braden said he believes that the agreements are not viable 28Es between DFA, Denmark Township, and Washington Township because they have not been filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
“It would be contrary to their position in ongoing litigation that it never was a 28E, that it’s just been a contract.”
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the position of the DFA’s attorney is that it doesn’t need to be a 28E because the DFA isn’t a governmental agency.
“But my reading of the code says it does need to be,” Fraise said. Braden said he agreed with that interpretation.
He said the pending court case will help sort some of the issues out, but he said the 501c4 still needs to be addressed.
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