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County leaders discuss fire plan

County leaders discuss fire plan

Posted: Friday, November 7, 2008 9:28 pm

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter County-wide fire protection: an idea whose time has come and gone and has come again. It reappeared Thursday evening in Troy, where a committee of three commissioners appointed by Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire reported on its year-long study. The committee is comprised of budget committee chairman Danny Jowers and commissioners Jimmy Seals and Cloney Taylor. The meeting, held at the Troy Senior Citizens Center, was attended by several local public officials and representatives of the insurance industry. Jowers presided over the meeting, which convened at 7 and adjourned at 9:45. It was a long evening. Discussion ranged from rural fire protection as a primary topic to associated subjects such as: • Fire protection subscription versus a fire protection tax that would be added to annual property taxes. • The financial plight of volunteer fire departments struggling to acquire and maintain equipment and provide critical services. Rives VFD is said to be funded by proceeds from a soft drink machine. “We offer so much more than running out and squirting water on a house that’s burning up,” said Hornbeak Fire Chief Bob Reavis. • A referendum to allow citizens to have a yes or no say in whether to have a county-wide fire protection program. History It was revealed that county-wide fire protection was enacted by the county commission back in 1985 but was never implemented. At the Thursday meeting, copies of a document titled, “The Obion County Fire Department — A presentation regarding the establishment and implementation of a county-wide fire department,” were distributed. The document includes legislation from 1985 creating the Obion County Fire Department. The legislation provides for operational authority, funding and goals. What happened to the 1985 plan? “It never was funded, so it just faded away,” McGuire said. But Thursday evening, commissioners and fire chiefs made it clear the time has come to readdress the issue. The three-member committee voted to submit a county-wide fire protection plan to the budget committee for consideration and forwarding to the Obion County commission. The budget committee will meet in called session in December, date unspecified as yet, to determine funding for the plan. “The only item on the agenda is the fire protection plan,” Jowers said. In this instance, the word “funding” means a tax. A fire tax. No popular vote Some at the meeting said the issue should be submitted to the citizens via referendum. Others said any legislation proposing a tax increase of any kind is certain to be defeated at the polls because nobody likes tax increases. Troy Mayor Jimmie Hart put it in perspective. “It would never pass,” he said. “If you want something not done, just hold a referendum, and it won’t pass. That’s what we elect a county commission for — to take care of county business. Whatever decisions are necessary, make them. It’s their job to make decisions, not send them back to the people.” Hornbeak Fire Chief Bob Reavis said he, too, prefers a tax because a fire protection tax would be a lesser amount than the fire subscription fees. Not everyone pays a subscription fee, and therefore some properties are not fire protected. But with the fire tax, there will be 100 percent coverage. “Everybody will have fire protection, instead of the 70 percent at best we have now,” he said. Fire district Jowers said the legislation, if passed by the county commission, will create a fire district for all areas of Obion County outside corporate (city) limits. “It will be a taxing district. People who are paying dual fire protection now, they will see a reduction. Their tax will be lower. Those people who are not paying (a fire subscription fee) now will see an increase in their taxes.” If the budget committee gives its stamp of approval in December, the proposed legislation will be referred to the county commission for an up or down vote at its January 2009 meeting. Jowers said he’s hopeful that citizens will support the program. “I asked each of the fire chiefs, ‘If there is not a (fire protection) tax, what do you plan to do?’” Jowers said. “Every one of them said they would either go subscription or increase subscription fees. Every one of them.” Three municipalities in the county — South Fulton, Union City and Kenton — have a fire protection program for properties as far as five miles outside their city limits. For property owners who want to subscribe to fire protection, Union City and South Fulton charge $75 a year; Kenton charges $50. “It’s important to note that properties inside corporate limits will be exempt from a county-wide fire protection program,” Jowers said. “They already pay for fire protection. They already pay city taxes, which people assume at least part of it goes to (support) their fire departments.” And there’s the matter of finances for the volunteer fire departments throughout the county, Jowers added. Some receive at least some funding from their city governments. Others are not so funded. “They cannot fund them,” he said. “Yet the majority of fires fought are outside city limits and in the county. They are going outside city limits to fight a fire in the county. And the county’s not paying a penny of it.” There are three areas in the county — Hop In, Cloverdale and Walnut Log — that are not served by any fire department via the subscription plan. “We have a plan in the future to put fire stations in those areas. But that’s ‘Plan B’ for right now. But we have to start somewhere.” If the county-wide fire plan is approved by the county commission, Jowers said, the fire protection subscription program will end. The legislation authorizing a county-wide fire protection program would go into effect July 1, 2009. McGuire’s perspective “We are looking at a possibility of a fire tax that will be added to the property tax bill each year,” said county mayor Benny McGuire. “We are still looking at how to fund it. Once we have a funding plan from the budget committee, the county commission would do an up or down vote. “I think the people of the county, if they are willing to pay it, talk to their commissioners. If they aren’t, they still need to talk. I think for county wide, it would be good. It’s fire protection for all people, not just those who pay a subscription fee.” Published in The Messenger 11.07.08

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