Fire protection focus of discussion

Fire protection focus of discussion
By DONNA RYDER
Associate Editor
What began as a simple housekeeping issue related to updating the inter-local agreement and rural fire subscription contract at the Union City city council ended in a lengthier discussion about how it affects Union City and how the city plans to deal with non-subscribers.
Union City Fire Chief Kelly Edmison told the council Tuesday night the new agreement removes the word “parcel” and leaves the word “address” when referring to properties for which the subscription fee should be paid.
He also said the requirement for the county to provide a quarterly printout of the database to the fire departments has been removed because the software program has been changed. The fire departments can now look up the information themselves, though it will be 911 which will dispatch the calls.
On the service agreement between the county and the homeowner, the word “parcel” was removed and it was decided that subscriptions will stay with the covered address, should the property be sold.
Councilman Bill “Rat” Harrison then questioned the hold-harmless portion of the contract and whether Union City would or would not be held liable.
Edmison said he understands anyone can sue for any reason, but said, “If we’re not in control of collecting the money and we also do not put the information into the database, it’s kind of hard for us to be responsible. …”
“That was one of the reasons I was very much in favor of this because, up until this past year, if we did not get this information in there right and we did not go when we should have, then we would have been responsible for somebody’s house.”
Councilman Johnny Ba-con asked how new, young residents who have no experience with fire protection are informed that they need to purchase a rural fire subscription. Edmison told him most fire insurance companies are telling them.
But Bacon said this is not the case. He said a young man who works for him recently purchased a house in the county and was not told by a local insurance company that he needed to purchase the rural fire subscription and he was not sure where to purchase the subscription.
Edmison replied there have been several insurance companies which have been requiring it, so different insurance companies are handling it differently.
The chief said since the fee is being accepted in the same office where residents license their cars, they can also find out about it there. He said the fire department gets phone calls all the time and the callers are directed to the clerk’s office.
Bacon asked if Edmison could see where he was coming from because there may be a single young man or a single young woman “just young and inexperienced” who might not know the laws. He said it’s not that they’re negligent, they’re just unaware they need to make the purchase.
Edmison replied he did understand because in most counties, when residents pay their property taxes, they also get fire service. Obion County is not like that.
Councilman Billy Jack “B.J.” Cranford asked if anyone responds if someone in the county has a fire and no subscription.
Edmison said the department has been responding, as of late, because the county was still getting the data in the system and his concern was he did not want any past members to get lost in the shuffle. He said he would rather err and go somewhere they shouldn’t have than to not go to someone they should. He added the county has the database at the point where, as far as he is concerned, that if they’re not paid, the city doesn’t go.
He said some departments in the county have “been kicking around” the idea like South Fulton of having two sets of figures. “I’m opposed to that,” he said.
Harrison then asked how much the department gets for each call. Edmison said the homeowners are billed $500 and they are expected to pass that on to their insurance companies. He said the billing information is sent to City Hall and he is unsure the percentage of the bills which are actually paid. City manager Kathy Dillon said she could provide the council with that information.
Cranford said even if there were a separate fee, it might not be paid anyway.
Edmison agreed, saying it’s his personal feeling, “It is not fair to give city services away to the county with no upfront money. You live in the city and every year you pay property taxes. A portion of your property taxes goes to the fire department. So, if you are going to guarantee that guy in the county that he is going to have coverage and he doesn’t have to invest anything, shouldn’t you have the same right to say ‘I want my portion of city property taxes for the fire department held out. …’”
The fire chief added a fire department is not something you can keep on a run-by-run basis because it doesn’t generate enough money to run the department.
Edmison said during a recent meeting of the county fire committee, it was noted there is over a 70 percent participation rate in the program. He said, to him, that means 70 percent of the people voted that they want county-wide fire protection.
He said if the county should pass a fire tax and have 100 percent payments, not only could this possibly lower the fee, it would also mean the fire departments could roll on all fires within their district.
“None of the departments like this fact of you go or you don’t go,” Edmison said.
“Until the county makes that decision or until the citizens of the county stand up and make that decision, it’s not going to change,” he added.
The council approved the changes to the documents.
Other business
In other business after Tuesday night’s meeting was opened in prayer by city attorney Jim Glasgow Jr., the council:
• Approved on second and final reading an amendment to the animal control ordinance which extends the waiting period for owners to pick up their animals from four days to seven days. On the eighth day, the animals will be up for adoption, then on the ninth they will be euthanized.
• Approved on second and final reading the reduction of the number of personnel advisory board members from five to three, as was originally called for in the city charter.
• Heard the reading of the proclamation setting City Beautiful Spring Clean Up for May 5-19. Dumpsters will be located on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, at the former Reelfoot Packing Co., on the vacant lot across from the Hostess store on East Jackson Street, at the National Guard armory and at Save-A-Lot. No paint cans or rubber tires should be dumped during this time.
• Agreed to close Church Street from Depot to Perkins streets Saturday from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. for the Earth Day Celebration.
• Heard enforcement is being increased on residents who violate the city ordinance concerning grass clippings in the roadway. Residents and owners are responsible, even if they pay contractors to mow. After the meeting, Union City Police Chief Joe Garner told The Messenger violators should be reported to the police department, preferably while the mowing is occurring, but they can be reported afterward. He said should the case go to court, the complainant may be asked to testify.
Councilman Danny Leggett asked if the city could mail a letter explaining the ordinance to residents, since many do not read the newspaper or the notices on their water bills. Ms. Dillon said the last mailout from the water department cost about $3,200. No action was taken on the mailing.
• Set May 8 at 2 p.m. for the grand opening celebration of Veterans Park.
• Asked Ms. Dillon to tell planning and codes there are lots of old houses which need to be taken care of in the city.
• Heard the police department has quarantined a triplex because of a recent meth bust. Garner said, by law, the whole building has to be quarantined because if it is not and someone in one of the other apartments gets sick, the city would be liable.
• Instructed city officials to contact the EPA concerning sewage problems at East Gate. Councilmen learned that the complex has its own sewer system and they take care of their own issues. Councilman Dianne Eskew said several residents do not have water and there is raw sewage flowing in the parking lot.
Associate Editor Donna Ryder can be contacted by email at dryder@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 4.18.12

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