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Fire protection outside city limits may come to end

Fire protection outside city limits may come to end
By DONNA RYDER
Associate Editor
It appears there will be no more fire protection outside the city limits of Union City come July 1 unless Obion County acts on providing funding for rural fire service.
Clearly upset by a recent decision by Obion County clerk Vollie Boehms to no longer accept the $75 rural fire service fee in her office and the lack of action to date by other county officials, Union City city council members took steps Tuesday night to stop the fire trucks at the city limits.
Mayor Terry Hailey ad-dressed Fire Chief Kelly Edmison about the issue during Tuesday night’s meeting, asking what the county is doing about the contract between the county and the city.
Edmison said officially the city will not know what the county is doing until Monday, when the full county commission meets. But, he said, from everything he is hearing, the county is backing out or has backed out of the collections for area fire departments.
“It appears they have a concern with liability issues. That’s apparently what has scared them off and so they’re basically dumping it back in the respective cities’ laps to continue or whatever the cities want to do with rural fire service,” the chief said.
Hailey replied, “Well, I have a problem with liability, too. What would happen if we just say, ‘OK, we’re just going to service to the city limits and we’re going to stop?’”
Edmison said there’s a little over $100,000 that would not be in the city’s general fund any longer.
Councilman Johnny Bacon said, “They (county officials) need to look at that, too. That money.”
But, councilman Judy Robinson asked about the county residents who will surely see their insurance rates increase because they will no longer have access to fire protection. “Their insurance rates will go up drastically,” she said.
Edmison suggested because the timing is so close to the July 1 deadline, the city might wish to take the money for another year before making any decisions.
But Bacon said that’s for the county voters to decide. “If they don’t like who’s running that department (meaning Mrs. Boehms), they need to change that department,” he said. “The lady that decided not to do that. They need to change who is running the department and decide if they want this, then they vote whoever they want in.”
The mayor asked whether or not he heard that Mrs. Boehms had said the county could not have a referendum on the county collecting a fire tax this year.
“That’s what they are saying,” Edmison replied. “I don’t know the legalities or the politics on that.”
Hailey said it takes a private act of the Legislature to have a referendum and the Legislature’s already out.
“They say it’s a non-binding referendum at that,” the chief said.
“Since July 1 is not that far off, if we are going to continue servicing that five miles, what plans are we making now?” councilman Bill “Rat” Harrison asked.
“We’re trying to gear up to what we can do or how we can do it,” the chief replied.
Bacon asked about the people who are caught in between. “What about the folks who are left unguarded?”
“You mean right now,” Edmison asked, with Bacon replying “Right now.”
“Right now, I think my gut feeling is that we cover everything in our area right now,” the chief said.
“You can’t do that. You cannot do that. No sir. No, you can’t do that. They’ve got to make a decision to cover those folks or we have to pull in and just cover the city limits,” Bacon said.
Councilman Billy Jack “B.J.” Cranford suggested the city could go back to the way it was before the agreement between the city and county for the county to collect the rural fire subscription fee for the area around Union City.
Edmison said, “My concern is the people who aren’t covered right now who want coverage, but there’s no place to pay it. Do we give them coverage?”
“No,” Bacon replied, adding, “The county made that decision, not us. We pull back to the city limits and be done until a decision is made.”
But Cranford said there is another way to look at it. “I don’t know why we should penalize the people for something the county’s done. It’s not the people’s fault.”
“Why do you want to penalize the person that pays and the person next door doesn’t pay? Why do you want to penalize the person who pays? You can’t do that,” Bacon said.
The fire chief told the council his concern is the reliability of the database since the information has been collected by the county. He said if someone is not in the database and should be in the database, it’s a mistake on the county’s part, but if the city doesn’t respond because they’ve taken it back over, then it’s the city’s liability.
“What I’m getting at is, if they’ve made a mistake, we’ve got to start from scratch here,” he said.
“The way we start from scratch is to start at the city limits. Stop there,” Bacon said.
“What about those people who’ve already paid their $75,” Mrs. Robinson asked.
“That’s her (Mrs. Boehms’s) responsibility,” Bacon replied.
But Hailey said, “You’ll have to cover it until then (the July 1 deadline).”
“When July 1 gets here and they haven’t made a decision, we’ve got to pull back to the city limits,” Bacon said.
Hailey agreed. “To cover errors and omissions that may be there now, to me personally, we may have to come up with some fee arrangement for them between now and July 1,” he said of the county residents who have not paid the fire subscription fee.
“Until July 1, you’re going to have to cover them all, whether they’ve paid or not, and charge some other fee,” the mayor said to Edmison, “If by July 1, they haven’t made any recommendations, we should go out of the county fire business and stop at the city limits.”
Several council members and city manager Kathy Dillon suggested the county officials could find a way to make it work if they wanted to.
“I don’t believe they want it to work,” Harrison said.
“As far as our liability, once July 1 comes, we might as well just stop providing service and the people who live close to town who want the service can talk to the county about getting it back,” Hailey said.
“That’s exactly right,” Bacon said.
“I think the people are going to have to force the issue,” Harrison added.
“That’s right. And, they will come closer to doing that if we stop,” Hailey said.
The council agreed to provide service to everyone in the five-mile area around Union City until the July 1 contract deadline with the county. Should anyone have a fire who has not paid the $75 rural protection fee, then the council decided the regular $500 service call fee would be doubled to $1,000. There was talk about using a collection agency to collect the fee, if the homeowner does not pay.
“It will be real easy for you. Where the city limits stops, the truck stops,” Hailey said to Edmison.
“I agree,” Edmison replied.
After the vote passed unanimously to double the service call fee for non-subscribers through July 1, Hailey said, “As it stands now, we’ll go out of the fire business July 1 for county subscribers unless the county does something.”
Councilman Dianne Eskew was absent from the meeting.
Published in The Messenger 5.16.12

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