On-duty firefighters not to work fundraiser

During the Tuesday night meeting, the Belton City Council rejected a request for on-duty firefighters to work the Muscular Dystrophy Association boot block over Labor Day weekend. After an initial motion was made for approval, no councilman seconded the motion and therefore no vote was taken.

Captain Steve Kratofil came before the Council with the request specifically for Council’s support for on-duty personnel to work the boot block. On April 9, Council had approved the boot block, as requested by the Belton Firefighters Local 42, IAFF (International Association of Firefighters), for the purpose of raising funds for the MDA on August 30 through September 2 during specific time windows.

According to a statement released by Ron Trivitt, City Manager, “The City Council was also informed of a City Attorney’s opinion that Article 6, Section 25 of the Missouri Constitution would prevent the City from paying the firefighters for doing work that uniquely and exclusively benefits MDA. This position is confirmed in Attorney General Opinion No. 35-69. The City Attorney stated that the City Council cannot authorize payment for this work without finding there is a legitimate City service being performed.”

The indicated section of the Missouri Constitution reads as follows: “No county, city or other political corporation or subdivision of the state shall be authorized to lend its credit or grant public money or property to any private individual, association or corporation except as provided in Article VI, Section 23(a),” with several exceptions listed for retirement, pension, and benefits. (http://www.moga.mo.gov/const/a06025.htm)

A portion of the Attorney General Opinion reads, “The law requires that public funds be paid only in exchange for actual service. However, this does not prohibit the compensation from being paid in so many dollars and so many days paid vacation or leave so long as both compensations are in exchange for the service rendered.” (http://ago.mo.gov/opinions/1969/35-69.htm)

Accompanying Captain Kratofil to the meeting was Darrel Smith, Divisional Director of the MDA.

“Our Missouri Valley Chapter, headquartered in the Kansas City, Missouri area, provides services directly to nearly 1400 children and adults, 29 of whom reside in Cass County, and nearly half of those live within the city limits of Belton,” said Smith. He echoed Kratofil’s request for Council support for on-duty firefighters to collect the donations.

“One thing I think that needs to be said is that there’s no question that it’s a worthwhile cause,” said Trivitt.

“The only question is a policy question about whether the City should pay employees to raise funds for the charity while they’re on duty,” he continued. “It’s both a legal question and a policy question.”

Smith emphasized that the firefighters are “still on duty” during the collection period. He passed out to Council a list of towns in Missouri and the United States that he said allow firefighters to collect funds while on duty.

According to Smith, Belton traditionally raises funds in the $9,000-$10,000 range through this boot block.

According to Kratofil, on-duty firefighters collect more than off-duty firefighters, and they also comply with the rules better.

“When an employee is on the job, they have certain rules and regulations. As a captain, I can’t control someone who is a volunteer,” he said.

He added that he has been here thirteen years and there has never been an incident during boot blocks throughout that time.

Kratofil also said they will still do the charity regardless, “but I don’t know how many will show up.” The firefighters work 24-hour shifts and have families and lives outside their jobs that could hinder them from coming in on their day off.

Councilman Tim Savage said that he was “totally unaware” that the fundraiser had always been done on-duty. He said he thinks that the firefighters should concentrate on being “road ready,” and that means staying at the station.

Councilman Scott Von Behren spoke up “as the father of a child who has a physical challenge,” saying, “I understand that organizations do a lot of great work to raise funds. But like Councilman Savage, my concern is the legality, and if Council can come up with a way to say, ‘Hey, we can do this,’ I am all for it.”

The statement from Belton also states, “City employees are free to volunteer while off duty to work for the benefit of the MDA fundraiser or any other charity.”

The other items on the agenda were approved quickly, including the motion to establish the farmer’s market at its new location through October 3, since the location’s trial period has proven successful.

Councilmen Justin Neff, Chet Trutzel, and Everett Loughridge were absent from the meeting.

For the full video and agenda of the meeting, visit www.belton.org.

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