GARDNER, Ill. — Now that the court has ruled all assets belong to it, the Gardner Fire District spent Friday moving back into the firehouse.
"We're officially moved in and we'll be responding from here," said Chief Terry Jensen Friday.
On Thursday, Judge Robert Marsaglia ruled in favor of the Gardner Fire Protection District — over the former Gardner Fire Department — that the district rightfully terminated its contract with the department.
"(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 Thursday. "In light of that, we're going to take possession of the building."
The department's attorney, Tim Rathbun of Rathbun, Cservenyak & Kozol, could not be reached before press time. Former fire chief Randy Wilkey refused to comment Friday afternoon.
In court last week, Porter told the judge the district's fire trucks were at risk, being stored outside in the changing weather since the district was unable to get into the firehouse. The district had been operating out of Gardner Village Hall and storing equipment in village buildings, but their largest trucks could not fit anywhere.
"It's a relief to get the equipment in the building before the winter time came," said Gary Morris, district board president. "In about a week to a week and a half we should be back to normal."
Morris expressed appreciation for the village and community coming together to help the district store equipment and for allowing them to operate out of the village hall.
"We didn't miss a beat when we took over in June," he said and adding the residents of Gardner have given the district positive feedback since the district took over services from the former department.
The whole battle between the district and department started when former department chief Randy Wilkey refused to give the district board original receipts from which 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.
Eventually the district terminated its contract for services with the department due to it misappropriating funds by using its money for legal fees to argue an election for district trustees. The department said then it could not misappropriate its own funds. The court ruled in support of the termination previously and upheld that ruling Thursday.
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, 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...," stated the court order filed Thursday.