The Jones County Fire Council and Board of Supervisors had a special-called meeting on Wednesday, where they were expected to announce that a contract agreement had been reached for the county’s volunteer fire departments to continue serving the county. 

The current contract was set to expire on Tuesday, Nov. 2, but the fire council was working out details caused by funding shortfalls after funds were embezzled and the state auditor’s office was investigating. 

In a recent meeting, Jones County Fire Coordinator Kyle Brooks requested that he be allowed to transfer $161,572.59 from the volunteer fire department fund to the fire rebate fund, which would satisfy state investigators’ requirements to replace stolen money that the state had provided. Supervisors unanimously agreed to allow the transfer. 

The VFD fund had $178,354.53 in county-raised funds at the time and $168,099.03 in state rebate money, according to a letter Brooks sent the board that day. 

Brooks also proposed that money in the state account be used to pay, in part, $300,761 in overages for seven new fire trucks that have been ordered by seven VFDs. 

“If this plan is accepted and performed by the Jones County Board of Supervisors, it is the understanding of the Jones County Volunteer Fire Department Council that the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office investigation related to the Jones County Volunteer Fire Department Council and its 19 Volunteer Fire Departments will be concluded,” attorney Seth Hunter wrote on behalf of Brooks and the fire council. 

The board suspended monthly allocations to the council this summer, at the beginning of the investigation into fraudulent use of funds. The amount withheld from August and September totals approximately $100,000. The fire council wanted that money to help meet the demand of the auditor so fire service will be uninterrupted. The contract with the county expires Nov. 2, and if it’s not signed, residents and businesses outside of the Laurel city limits will not have fire protection. 

The board wanted the council to sign the contract agreeing to its conditions before allocating more money to fund the fire service. 

Former fire council president Lee Garick was under investigation for using tens of thousands of dollars in county and state funds — up to $400,000, according to some reports — and facing two counts of embezzlement when he took his life last month.

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