The Bradley County Fire Department suffered a blow recently when the County Commission reduced the rural fire tax rate from 19 cents per hundred property tax valuation to 13 cents. This was about the only problem in an otherwise excellent job of budget preparation by the county executive and commission. While we can certainly use all the tax decreases we can get, one would hope that the commission would use better judgment in where to cut. Most shocking of all was to hear some commissioners describe keeping the rural fire tax rate at 19 cents as a tax "increase," something they knew full well was totally false, in an effort to confuse the media and public. The shoddy explanation for this attempt at description was that keeping the tax rate at 19 cents was an "increase" over their proposed rate of 13 cents. To claim that keeping the tax rate the same is an "increase" because it is more than an arbitrary figure someone plucked out of the air is an argument too silly to require comment. By the same reasoning, the general tax rate, which stayed at $2.18 was also "increased" since a proposal to reduce it to $2.15 did not pass.
Most amazing of all was that some commissioners who were concerned that taxpayers outside the fringe area were being overcharged at 19 cents showed no concern at all that taxpayers inside the fringe are paying 51 cents for the same service, that is, response from three fire stations for structure fires, and suitable responses to other situations such as accidents, Life Force landings, and brush fires. If the commissioners are looking for overcharged taxpayers, they are looking in the wrong fire district.
Of course, some commissioners concerns aren't really all about taxpayers. Several of those leading the effort to starve the fire department for funds have few, if any, constituents in the rural fire district. The real goal is to cripple the county fire department so that when the present unfair contract with the city finally expires, there will be no option but to renew it and keep the city on the county taxpayer funded gravy train.
Some commissioners have gotten fond of pointing out that Cleveland residents are Bradley County residents, too. That is true, so why aren't they paying county fire tax? At present, county residents outside the city are paying about $1.4 million per year to support the city fire department, while city residents pay not one dime to support the county fire department. This is obviously unfair and this situation should not be allowed to continue after the present fire contract with the city expires.
The supposed reason for reducing the fire tax was that the fire fund had a decent balance. The commissioners know that this money is needed to complete development of the fire department so that all areas of the county will be protected. A station and the equipment for it is badly needed in the Waterville community. This alone would consume a great deal of the present fund balance. In addition, outstanding indebtedness needs to be paid off in order to save the taxpayers interest costs.
There were the usual statements from some commissioners about how much they appreciated the work of the volunteers and how valuable they are to the county, while they voted to starve them for funds. Actions speak louder than words, folks. Knock off the hypocrisy, it just makes you look bad.
Since Chief Gaylor feels it is dangerous to have volunteers around his paid firefighters, we owe it to him to keep our $1.4 million per year so it won't endanger his people.