Rural fire issue sparks heated debate among SF officials

Rural fire issue sparks heated debate among SF officials
By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
The rural fire issue sparked some heated dis-cussion Thursday night among the South Fulton City Commission.
Commissioners were slated to review the city’s rural fire policy at their monthly meeting after the issue drew attention following a December 2011 fire outside the city limits.
The city’s fire department currently offers rural fire service outside the city limits for a subscription fee of $75 per year.
Thursday night, South Fulton city manager Deb-ra Craig presented city commissioners a copy of a draft ordinance devised from several different municipalities in the area. The main difference was fees, she said.
The revised ordinance suggests a $100 annual fee, then a $750 service charge per rural call. For anyone who chooses not to subscribe to the rural fire service and the city’s fire department responds, there would be a $2,500 fee.
Mrs. Craig said the revised ordinance would allow for 100 percent response, with no non-response for non-payment of the subscription fee.
South Fulton Mayor Da-vid Crocker said the issue is a county issue and not a city issue, emphasizing that South Fulton’s fire department is funded with city residents’ tax dollars. He said the city already has an ordinance in place and passage of the revised ordinance would result in people stopping payment of their rural fire subscription fees, while the only other option would be to discontinue rural fire service and stay in the city limits.
Crocker emphasized the city’s obligation is to “the taxpayers of the City of South Fulton, period.”
“We are stewards of the city tax dollars,” he added.
Crocker reiterated that the offering of fire service to rural residents is a county problem and he said no one approached the county commission with the issue when it met earlier this week.
Vowell said he understands and agrees in principle, but said it is also a city problem when it draws “the negative backlash” and national media attention as the result of rural fires in September 2010 and again in December 2011. He said it is “a perception problem” for South Fulton, Obion County and all of West Tennessee.
Vowell said there can be compromise and said the revised ordinance is a step in the right direction. He questioned how Crocker knew rural fire customers would quit paying and said there is a benefit to home owner’s insurance for subscribers.
Vice Mayor Charles Moody said if Obion County wants residents to have rural fire service, the county should draw up a contract with South Fulton. He said people move outside the city limits to avoid taxes and fees, but then still want the city’s services. He also said it is a county problem and the city offers the rural fire service as a courtesy.
Vowell said South Fulton is a part of Obion County and “it’s a problem for all of us.” He said the revised ordinance would not cost the city taxpayers anything and could actually generate more funds for the city.
Commissioner Tony Perry noted the city could always revise the ordinance again if there was a drop in rural fire subscriptions.
After some heated discussion between Crocker and Vowell, the commission voted to table the rural fire policy review until next month’s city commission meeting in order to give commissioners more time to review it.
In 2011, the Obion County Commission approved a plan for the county to accept payments of $75 per year from rural residents to cover the fee for a rural fire subscription plan. The county collects the subscription fee, keeping 5 percent for administrative costs, and distributes the remainder to Union City, Kenton, Samburg, Hornbeak, Troy, Obion and Rives. The City of South Fulton opted out and decided to continue its own similar plan.
But it was South Fulton’s plan that drew national attention — prompted by area television news reports — for two consecutive years when the fire department could not respond to burning homes because the owners did not pay the subscription fee.
In other action during Thursday evening’s meeting, which was opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer led by Perry, the city commission:
• Approved an ambulance service contract for the operation of the Twin City Ambulance Service, which was recently taken over by Parkway Regional Hospital for an initial three-year lease agreement.
The agreement includes financial commitments from Fulton, South Fulton, Hickman, Ky., and Fulton County, Ky., with an equal split the first year and then an annual subsidy calculated half on risk, a result of population figures, and half on run rates, a result of actual calls, the second and third years.
City attorney Karl Ivey said commissioners had already agreed to the proposal, in principle, during their November 2011 meeting and were being asked to approve the contract as drafted.
“It’s an important service to the community,” Vowell said.
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the service agreement contract and authorize the city manager to make payment in a timely fashion each month to avoid penalty. Moody cast the lone dissenting vote, explaining he hadn’t yet read the contract and didn’t feel he could vote on it.
• Approved the second and final readings of ordinances to annex the Fulton Cumberland Presbyterian Church property on Parker Road, adjacent to the current city limits of South Fulton, and to amend the city’s zoning map to zone the annexed property.
A public hearing regarding the annexation was held prior to the commission meeting, with no comments.
• Took no action on a citizen’s request to waive utility tap fees for new construction.
• Authorized the city manager to pursue the purchase of two vehicles for the Public Works Department, with the cost not to exceed $20,000 total. The vote was 4-1, with Moody voting against it.
The vehicles being considered are two basic regular-cab pickup trucks and include used models priced around $10,000 each.
Mrs. Craig explained there are several Public Works vehicles in need of repair and it is not worth the high cost to repair them. She said cash reserves are such as to make the purchases possible.
• Voted to continue the contract for planning advisory services with Will Radford through the end of the year.
• Learned Mrs. Craig attended a Community Development Block Grant-related meeting before the commission meeting. She said she hopes the environmental and preliminary phases will be done by March and the sewer improvement project can proceed.
• Was informed Mrs. Craig attended a meeting regarding 2010 disaster grants, through which the city applied for a generator for the water treatment plant. She said there were many applications and they are still being reviewed.
Published in The Messenger 1.20.12

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