by Mel Griffith
The Cleveland city council spent a great deal of time at their recent retreat on the fire department, especially the contract with the county. If you look close, you can probably see dollar signs gleaming in their eyes. The county fire contract is a gravy train the city doesn't want to lose. In fact, they have big plans to grab off even more county tax money. They plan to build two more fire stations, the principal purpose of which will be to expand the "fringe area" in which the city collects taxes from county residents. (Technically, county residents in the fringe area don't pay city fire taxes, the county collects them and hands them over to the city, but this is a distinction without a difference).
If the city builds two more stations, they will end up getting fire taxes from most county residents. Even that isn't enough to satisfy the city's greed. They have even bigger plans. They want to take over the county fire department. The city trotted out their favorite puppet, Ray Crouch of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, with his phony air of impartiality to suggest that the county just donate its fire department to the city. Crouch is the one who came up several years ago with the disastrous idea of turning the county volunteers over to the city. With a record like that, why would anyone want his advice now? The truth is that Crouch has never been anything but a spokesman for the city, and has tried to help them destroy the Bradley County Fire Department from the beginning. In case there is any doubt, Crouch said flat out that if a "consolidated" fire department is established the volunteer system would "have to be abolished" in other words, there wouldn't be any real consolidation, just a complete takeover by the city.
Anybody who would suggest that after the volunteers have spent ten years and thousands of hours working for free to build the county fire department, they ought to just be run out of the county. A better suggestion would be for the county to keep the $1.5 million it is currently giving the city and use it for the benefit of the county fire department.
One city councilman complained that his city property might not be protected if the fire department was busy in the county. Well, councilman, if you don't think county residents deserve the same protection as city residents, why are they paying the same taxes?
If the city is short of firefighters, as claimed, what are they doing with the $1.5 million they are getting from the county, very little of which is actually spent in fighting county fires?
The Bradley County Fire Department has come from nothing but an idea about ten years ago to probably the finest and best equipped county fire department around, with seven stations to give complete coverage to almost all the county. Bradley County taxpayers have paid for it, and most of the labor has been donated by public-spirited citizens. Our county commission must resist city schemes to get control of it. Those who built it did not intend it for a donation to the city.