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Court rules for Gardner Fire District

GARDNER - The court has ruled in favor of the Gardner Fire Protection District over the former Gardner Fire Department and as a result the district will be able to take over the firehouse.

"(The court ruled) we appropriately terminated the contract and therefore all department assets belong to the district," said district attorney Rick Porter of Hinshaw & Culbertson. "In light of that we're going to take possession of the building."

Porter said he is trying to contact the department's attorney, Tim Rathbun of Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol, to find out when the district could move into the firehouse.

In court last week, Porter told the judge the district's fire trucks were at risk being stored outside in the changing weather since they were unable to get into the firehouse. The district has been operating out of Gardner Village Hall and storing equipment in village buildings, but their largest trucks could not fit anywhere. 

"They're certainly happy to be able to be in one place again," said Porter.

Rathbun could not be reached before press time.

The whole battle between the district and department started when former department Chief Randy Wilkey refused to give the district board original receipts to pay the department's bills, according to previous statements by district representatives and Wilkey.

Eventually, when Wilkey refused to give originals, the district refused to pay the bills. This led to the feud going to court and the district no longer recognizing Wilkey as chief. And eventually the district terminated its contract with the department for services due to it misappropriating funds by it using it for legal fees to argue an election for district trustees. The court ruled in support of the termination as well.

In June, the court ordered the department hand over all assets, except for real estate, which had to be dealt with separately.

The district trustees maintained they were elected by the people to make sure taxpayer monies were being spent correctly. The district then hired its own chief, Terry Jensen, and the district now provides the village with fire protection services independently.

The department and district have been fighting over the department's funding in court and last week the department argued it was not only funded with government money, but it also had independent revenue through its ambulance service and offering classes.

The district argued the only reason the department was able to offer any other services was because it enabled it to by having the district's authority to do so and therefore its other revenue is also public funding.

"The court previously found that the use of funds by the Gardner Fire Department for direct political purposes was a misappropriation of funds. In so finding, the court rejected the department's argument that it was not possible for them to misappropriate their own money. The sums possessed by the department are sums earned by them pursuant to their contract. This court again rejects the department's argument and adopts the findings made in June...," states the court order filed Thursday.

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