Some local volunteer fire departments may have to update or establish their nonprofit statuses in order to access fire service fee funds or any other county appropriations.
On Monday, the Houston County Commission approved a policy that requires any volunteer fire department not sponsored by a municipality to have updated nonprofit status filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteer fire departments in the county have until Oct. 1 to “be in substantial compliance” with the policy or risk losing their share of the county fire service fee and any other appropriations.
According to Peter Covert, the county’s chief administrative officer, the county has disbursed an average of $375,000 per year from the state’s tobacco taxes in the last decade. Additionally, the county has paid an average of $357,000 per year to the Houston County Volunteer Firefighters Association collected through the county fire service fee.
The association in turn divides the fire service fee funds equally between itself and the county VFDs, Covert added.
Chris Judah, Dothan-Houston County Emergency Management Agency director, said most volunteer fire departments have current nonprofit statuses. Others will need to file some paperwork to comply with the policy.
“It sounds scary when it involves the IRS, but it’s just getting everything in compliance,” he said. “It’s paperwork. It’s just a little time-consuming.”
The policy reinforces a requirement that exists in the local law establishing a fire service fee that residents and businesses outside of Dothan pay annually through property taxes. The law cites the state’s definition of a volunteer fire department, which contains the tenets regarding nonprofit status or municipality sponsorship.
Judah said no volunteer fire department is really at risk of losing its funding since departments have a few months to become compliant. VFDs will need to consult their own accounts or the Houston County Volunteer Fire Association’s account to verify nonprofit status, he added.
Volunteer fire departments must also receive certification from the Alabama Forestry to be considered eligible for the funding.