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Fire chief turns up heat on OC officials

Fire chief turns up heat on OC officials
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Obion Fire Chief Jamie Evans is on a mission.
The 15-year firefighting veteran, like most firefighters, is passionate about his work fighting fires and saving lives.
That drive is propelling him into the heat of the battle over rural fire protection in Obion County.
Evans engaged in a heated verbal debate over rural fire protection with Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire at a recent Obion City Council meeting. It was following that exchange, which also involved several other Obion officials, that the council voted to suspend going outside the city limits to fight fires after July 1.
Now, Evans is turning up the heat on the Obion County Commission.
He dispatched an email Friday to firefighting officials across Obion County calling for solidarity.
“Let’s show Obion County that this is their problem and that, without us, they can go to the bank and borrow the $10,000,000 that it will cost them to start their own fire departments,” Evans stated in his sharply worded email.
The commission’s fire committee met Tuesday morning for nearly two hours to discuss rural fire protection.
The county commission will resume its discussion of rural fire protection when it meets at 9 a.m. Friday at the Obion County Courthouse. Evans said he plans to attend Friday’s meeting in support of a countywide fire tax.
The ongoing debate over how to implement countywide fire protection has most recently focused on how to fund the program without a property tax increase. There is also the issue over who will manage the program — individual fire departments or the county.
So far, the issue of rural fire protection has stalled and it is Evans who is leading the charge to have the county commission accept responsibility for the program.
He supports the fire tax proposal, which would simplify how countywide fire protection is managed. According to Evans, the fire tax would be added to property tax bills and would cost farmers about $20 per 100 acres. A 16-cent tax would raise about $375,000 to completely fund rural fire protection.
“That’s not an unrealistic amount,” Evans said about the $20 per 100-acre tax.
County trustee Lori Seals would collect the tax and there would be no need for a database.
“Any fire, we go,” Evans said.
Evans said about $300,000 of the tax revenue would be enough to subsidize rural fire protection for the county’s fire departments with about $75,000 left over. It is the goal of the fire chiefs around the county to place that money into an account that would be used to establish more rural fire departments in the county, according to Evans.
He said the first two fire departments on the list would be established in Cloverdale and Clayton.
“It’s a very achievable goal,” Evans said. “We (the county’s fire departments) will do everything in our power to make it successful.”
The excess tax revenues would be used to build fire stations and purchase firefighting equipment for rural areas of the county, while fire departments would provide training for volunteer firefighters and would be available to help respond to emergencies, Evans said.
He believes it’s a simple solution to a complex problem, but he is also not convinced the fire tax proposal will be passed by the commission on Friday.
Meanwhile, Evans is trying to rally the county’s fire departments behind the effort to establish some kind of rural fire protection program for Obion County.
“As far as referendums go, why bother? We have already been told that no matter what, the county commission is never going to vote in a fire tax. Referendums concerning fire service are NON-BINDING,” Evans wrote in his email.
“This simply means the will of the people will be heard, but no action is required by the governing body,” he added.
Evans goes on to describe rural fire subscriptions as “evil” and “a remnant of the last century.”
In his email, Evans issues a very direct call to arms for his fellow firefighters in Obion County.
“Gentlemen, we have the county on the ropes. I sincerely hope that any fire department that elects to stay inside the city limits has the backbone to stay the course and see this through,” Evans said. “To delay this issue for another year simply takes the pressure off the commissioners in an election year. How stupid would we be for allowing this to happen?”
“Stand up for what you believe in. Don’t back down and don’t give up. If we lose our momentum now, it is lost forever and we will never fix this problem,” he said.
His email continues on using an even more dire tone.
“Someone will eventually die as a result of this program,” Evans stated. “Property WILL be lost unnecessarily.”
“If you bend at the whim of greedy landowners, and if you make deals that aren’t what’s best for both your town and your rural customers, then you are no better than the commissioners that refuse to allow the will of the people to prevail,” Evans’ email to his fellow firefighters states.
Published in The Messenger 5.31.12

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