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City Makes County an Offer for Fire Contract
by Ashley Murphy

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Cleveland City Council may ruffle some feathers with their latest proposal to the Bradley County Commission during their meeting yesterday afternoon. Councilman Richard banks made a motion to offer the county to enter into a 10 year contract beginning June 1, 2012. This contract would require the county to pay $1.5 million to the city for their services of the urban fringe area. The current amount is a little over $1.8 million. Throughout the course of this contract, the city and county would need to work together to look toward a merger at the end of the 10 year period.

Banks' original motion was to have the proposed contract begin after the current contract ended on July 1, 2013. However, City Manager Janice Casteel said, "No, I don't like that. Then you get down to 900 [$900,000] and you're looking at a tax increase." Currently, the first two years of the existing contract are set for the county to pay the city $1.8 million and only $900,000 the third and final year. Casteel and Councilman Bill Estes agreed that the proposed contract should be set on July 1, 2012 in order to receive the $1.5 million in the motion and not just the $900,000 in the current contract. Casteel concluded by saying, "We don't know the eyes that are on Cleveland and Bradley County as we recruit industries and I think it's important that we settle this as quickly as possible."

Estes also questioned why the city would making this offer of only $1.5 million saying that it was a great bargain for the county and that the city was underwriting the county. "So, we're gonna work our people harder and give less to our citizens?"

Banks explained that he's trying his best to appeal to both sides in order to avoid two separate fire departments and save the people of Cleveland an 18 cent tax increase and layoffs inside the city.

Cleveland City Fire Chief Chuck Atchley was asked how many firemen he would need to lay off; Atchley answered, "To make up $1.8 million? 20?" The motion then passed with Estes being the only councilman voting no.

The council was called to pass Resolution 2010-131 declaring the intent of the City of Cleveland to reimburse itself for certain expenditures with the proceeds of bonds, notes and/or loans to be issued by the City of Cleveland. Casteel stated the reason this needed to be done was to continue with the airport project and to be able to legally reimburse themselves. Estes made note that the original $7.6 million stated in this resolution was entirely too high and he would be more comfortable with a much lower number.

Banks eventually made the motion to accept the resolution but to limit the funds to LIC South and LIC North, the airport and the comprehensive plan. This brings the final total to a little over $4.2 million instead of the original $7.6 million.

No matter how it's passed, a tax increase would still need to be implemented in order to cover all of these expenses. The original second, Councilman George Poe made clear to everyone in the room that he is for the motion, but not for a tax increase. Poe eventually wished to withdraw his second, because a tax increase is likely unavoidable and Poe does not agree. The roll call continued after some confusion and discussion

Councilmen Charlie McKenzie and Bill Robertson voted against the motion.

The City offices will be closed for the Thanksgiving Holiday on Thursday and Friday, November 25th and 26th. Their next meeting day will be Monday, December 13, 2010.