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Fire coverage, school funding take center stage

Fire coverage, school funding take center stage

By CHRIS MENEES
Staff Reporter
County and city officials aired their feelings as they came together Monday to seek solutions on some controversial issues.
The agenda for Monday’s Obion County Commission meeting included the much-debated topics of the county’s rural fire subscription program and the estimated $90,000 loss to the Union City School System under the county’s 2011-12 budget.
No immediate decisions were made on either issue, with both items to be discussed further at meetings set for this week and next week.
On the rural fire issue, the county’s fire committee will meet with city mayors or designated city officials May 29 at 9 a.m. at the courthouse to discuss options and then report back to the full county commission when it reconvenes June 1 at 9 a.m. for a decision.
Obion County is no longer collecting rural fire subscription fees after the county clerk expressed concerns about her office collecting a fee not authorized by state statute and decided earlier this month to stop collecting the fee.
Obion County had entered into an interlocal agreement with the communities of Hornbeak, Kenton, Obion, Rives, Samburg, Troy and Union City in January 2011 for the purpose of establishing a countywide fire protection service to residents outside the established town and city limits.
In the agreement, each municipality agreed to implement a standard subscription rate — $75 for each parcel/address — and Obion County agreed to collect and distribute all subscription fees — less a 5 percent collection fee — for all municipalities named in the agreement.
After the 5 percent clerk’s fee was deducted, Union City was paid $115,177 the first year the countywide program was in effect, while the other six cities were each paid about $25,000.
Monday, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire presented commissioners a list of possible solutions that included a fire tax, a fire fee collected by a utility district or subscriptions to be collected by each city. He outlined the positives and negatives of each.
McGuire said there is some “good language” in the countywide subscription program, as well as an existing database and clearly-defined fire zones, and he urged the cities not to discard what has been done.
Regarding the Union City School System’s loss of funds, the matter is slated to be discussed further when the Obion County Budget Committee meets Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the courthouse.
The city’s school system has lost an estimated $90,000 under the county’s current 2011-12 budget due to a reduction allotted to the city and county schools this year — 7 cents on the tax rate — when the Obion County Commission approved its 2011-12 budget in August 2011.
The 7 cents represents about $250,000 in county education funding, which was made up in the Obion County School System with the use of county TVA funds. The TVA annually appropriates funds to local governments as payments in lieu of taxes.
A revenue research committee was appointed as a subcommittee of the budget committee to study the division of revenues between the Obion County and Union City boards of education and, since the loss was brought to light in recent weeks, Union City Director of Schools Gary Houston has pleaded for reinstatement of the $90,000 in funding.
Commissioner Danny Jowers, chairman of the budget committee, revealed Monday there is a plan in the works which could replace the $90,000 over two years and that would allow for the funds to not be cut again. He said he has spoken with both directors of schools and indicated it will be talked further at Wednesday’s budget meeting.
“We transferred that 7 cents and, in retrospect, probably ought to have left it alone, because it’s caused a lot of problems,” he said.
Jowers said the county school system’s funds were made up with TVA funds, but the city was not able to make up the loss.
“Quite frankly, they did lose, and, after listening to a lot, I understand that’s not fair,” he said.
During discussion of a resolution to amend the inter-departmental agreement between Obion County and the county’s board of education for transfer of funds not to exceed $3 million for the construction of vocational training facilities, Jowers also said it is not fair to charge the school system 3 percent interest.
The commission later voted to reduce the interest rate on the school note to .90 percent for one year, as well as to override a finance committee recommendation and to lower the rate to .90 percent for one year for the Industrial Development Board’s $3 million promissory note for the spec building. The finance committee had recommended raising the interest rate from 1.49 percent to 3 percent on the spec building.
Finance committee chairman Tim Doyle’s motion to set aside the finance committee’s recommendation was approved by a 14-7 vote.
Emotions high
Monday’s meeting opened with the commission hearing concerns from Union City Mayor Terry Hailey, who pointed to recent situations where he believes the city has not been treated fairly.
He cited the most recent issues involving the proposal to raise the spec building interest rate, the city school system’s loss of funds and rural fire protection. Last week, Union City’s city council decided to stop offering fire protection outside the city limits effective July 1 if the county does not act upon providing funding for rural fire service.
He said Union City already had its own successful rural fire subscription program when the city agreed to become involved in the interlocal agreement to establish the countywide program. He said it actually cost Union City several thousand in customers because it lost part of its coverage area, but the city felt it was for the common good of both the city and county.
Hailey said he received a call about two weeks ago indicating people could not sign up for rural fire service because the county clerk’s office was no longer collecting the fee. Characterizing county clerk Vollie Boehms as a competent and fair woman, he said he wishes she had come to city officials and indicated the program was not working, but said she likely went to county officials and was ignored.
“The City of Union City doesn’t want anybody to suffer over the inability of anyone to make this agreement work. We are continuing to provide fire service to everyone in our area whether they subscribe or not,” Hailey said.
However, according to Hailey, Union City will stop its fire service at the city limits on July 1 unless the county does one of the following: enacts countywide fire protection to serve everyone; finds someone else to operate a subscription service; pays Union City an annual fee for fire protection; or simply gives Union City back its own service along with the customers it lost when the city signed the interlocal agreement.
“Remember — it’s you who wanted this done and you who quit doing it, breaching our agreement with you. We worked on this until you made it impossible, and yet we were screwed again,” Hailey said.
He said Union City’s residents also pay county taxes and emphasized the importance of mutual respect cooperation between the city and county.
“I just want you to realize that just because you cross the city limit sign coming into town, you’ve not entered a foreign country,” Hailey said. “We are Obion County residents. We pay county taxes. We just want a little consideration …”
McGuire said no one wants to see economic development more than he does and he said it is not fair that Obion County was so publicly criticized at last week’s Union City city council meeting. He said he makes an effort to work with everyone and to get along, adding he will not stand for criticism of Obion County.
“Nobody is going to slam dunk Obion County,” he said.
He noted Union City fared well at Monday’s commission meeting with decisions involving the school system and the reduced interest rate.
McGuire also expressed appreciation to firefighters across the county for their efforts and said the county depends on the cities and their fire departments since there is no county fire department.
Mrs. Boehms told commissioners she has been portrayed by many as the villain, but she asked everyone to “walk a mile in my shoes” before they condemn her. She said she worked diligently for over a year, logging many hours of personal time, to try to make the subscription program work and she reiterated her concerns about possible liability with her office collecting the fee and subscriber database problems.
She said since her decision to stop collection, no county commissioners or city officials have contacted her and only one person from a fire department visited her.
Other action
In other action during Monday’s near two-hour meeting, which was opened with prayer led by state Rep. Andy Holt and with the Pledge of Allegiance, the county commission:
• Approved by a vote of 15-6 the resolution to amend the inter-departmental agreement previously approved by the county and the county’s board of education for transfer of funds for vocational training facilities.
• Approved a resolution authorizing the county’s court clerks to raise litigation taxes in Circuit, General Sessions and Chancery courts.
County attorney Steve Conley said the county is currently “capped” on the amount it can charge in litigation tax, explaining the county cannot charge more than the state also charges in litigation taxes. He said the resolution includes a section which will allow the court clerks to raise the county’s litigation taxes each time the state legislature raises the state’s litigation tax.
Conley is still researching whether the same litigation tax can be charged in juvenile court.
• Heard briefly from Holt, who now represents a portion of northeast Obion County in the state legislature due to redistricting.
• Heard a report concerning amended landfill agreements which were recently approved.
• Approved resolutions to amend the Central Cafeteria Fund to properly account for commodities received from USDA and to amend the General Purpose School fund to account for an increase in employees participating in the state’s health insurance program.
• Approved a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with Williams Sausage Co. for tax abatement during an expansion project.
• Voted to release the 2010 property and public utility taxes.
• Approved a resolution to amend the County General Fund to reflect an increase in expenditures for the trustee’s commission, pauper burials and new funding for digging a well at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport.
• Authorized application for a litter and trash collecting grant.
• Approved a resolution to adopt a continuing budget and tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1 until the county’s 2012-13 fiscal year budget can be adopted.
• Approved payment of the cost of a consultant services agreement, up to $6,000, with CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services Inc. of Cumberland, Md., for an insurance actuary. A recommendation for an audit finding was that the county should contract for a biennial actuarial valuation of its post-employment health care benefit plan.
• Accepted a report concerning the county’s employer contribution rate for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. It was noted on the biennial valuation that the current rate of 6.33 percent increases to 6.42 percent for the recommended employer contribution rate, effective July 1.
• Approved several reappointments to boards, including: commissioners Cloney Taylor and Terry Roberts, Union City Mayor Terry Hailey, Kenton Mayor Virginia Davidson and Troy Mayor Jimmie Hart to the Adult-Oriented Establishment Board; commissioner Norma Fowler, Steve Vaughn and Jean Rosier to the Health & Educational Facilities Board; commissioner Danny Jowers to the Obion County Industrial Development Corp. board as the legislative body’s representative; Wayne Bailey to the Obion County Public Library board; and Janis Lacewell, the Rev. Bobby Williams, Tracey Batey, Earnest Daniels, Timmy Gant, the Rev. Terry Council and Sonny Yarbrough to the Obion County Nursing Home board.
• Approved the appointment of Judy Barker to the Emergency Communications District board to fill a position formerly held by the late Harold Jenkins.
• Approved the appointment of Bob Nichols to the Obion County Highway Commission to fill a position formerly held by the late Malcolm Cook.
• Approved 21 notary public applications.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by email at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 5.22.12

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