Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Jeff Rabon said he’s pleased that the Republican leadership of the House has decided to do something meaningful to boost funding for rural fire departments in Oklahoma, but said the funding proposals in the measure passed off the House floor Tuesday fall short of the needs of Oklahoma’s first responders.
“In the Senate, we believe more needs to be done. Now that the Republican leadership in the House has expressed an earnest desire to do something significant for the heroic firefighters in our state, we are hopeful we will be able to conduct a serious dialogue and quickly come to a bipartisan agreement for additional funding that will deal effectively with the needs of Oklahoma's rural fire departments,” Rabon said.
The House Tuesday approved an amended version of Senate Bill 1190 which increases the annual operating grants for rural fire departments and appropriates $2 million for repair and replacement of equipment. Rabon said he believes another $5 million is needed for equipment.
“I’m hopeful that in the next few days we can come to an agreement that will provide more money for equipment repair and replacement,” Rabon said. “The needs of the state’s nearly 900 rural fire departments far exceed $2 million.”
Rabon and members of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services announced a bi-partisan Senate proposal last week that raises the annual operating grants, provides $7 million for equipment repair and replacement and creates a network to assist rural fire departments with equipment owned and operated by the Forestry Division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.
“As the events of last few weeks have shown us, fire season is not yet over and tornado season is already here. We must act swiftly to make sure that the first responders in rural Oklahoma have the resources necessary to meet the needs of future emergencies,” Rabon said. “By doing so we are doing our part to help create a safer Oklahoma.