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Questions Surround Fire Options
by Ashley Murphy

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The Bradley County Commission dedicated their work session yesterday afternoon to discuss the three options plaguing the fire protection services for the fringe area. City Manager Janice Casteel was also present for the meeting to join in on the discussion and to view the presentations that will hopefully help the county make a uniformed decision on the matter and represent the people of Bradley County as they were elected to do.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis opened the fire topic by presenting the audience with the county's fire plan, which has been in place for some time since the idea of the Bradley County Fire Department going on their own was raised. Davis wanted to make it clear that he wasn't in favor of any particular option and he wasn't speaking against any option; he and Finance Director Lynn Burns were just doing the task that the commission requested of them by coming up with a plan and budget projection if the city and county departments do separate.

As laid out, the 2008-2009 budget year would allow $50,000 to buy land to build a new county station in the Tasso area and another $350,000 to build the station. In 2010, land to build another county station was purchased in the Hopewell area for $50,000. In the 2011-2012 budget year, another $50,000 will be set aside for yet another county station. The county will also bid out the construction of three new stations (the 3rd being a Waterville area station).

It is planned for 2013-2014 to request a new ISO rating and staff the three stations with full time firefighters. By doing this, the fringe area would then be taken over by Bradley County Fire Departments and would be any area within five miles of a staffed county station; instead of the current area, which is within five miles of a city station.

Burns laid out the projection for budget purposes and over the next few years the fund balance of Bradley County will drop from its current $1 million plus balance to a little over $600,000. Mayor Davis wanted to let everyone know that this is a "worst case scenario" plan and that a 2% inflation rate has been added to the yearly projection, in addition another 2% for possible employee bonuses or incentives. Also added was the potential set back per year to save up enough money for possible fire truck replacements. Davis wanted everyone to know that the outlook could actually fair much better and leave the county in a much better position.

As concerns popped up about the length of the 10-year contract, Casteel stated that she wanted a 15-year contract, but Councilman Richard Banks is the one who formed the motion. Also, the current proposed contract is set at $1.5 million per year for 10 years, but in reality, the CPI (inflation) hasn't been included. This means that the $1.5 million will actually increase on a yearly basis.

Commissioner Mel Griffith then questioned Casteel about the money, "If you can afford to do the protection for $1.5 million, then why are you charging us $1.8 million now? Don't you think you're overcharging us?"

Casteel said she needed the money, but the $1.5 million is what passed through the City Council.

Commissioner Connie Wilson then questioned Casteel about the length of the proposed contract saying that she doesn't understand "what in the world we could talk about for ten years" and wanted to know why it would possibly take that long. "Ten years is a very long period of time" to plan a merger, she reiterated.

Commissioner Howard Thompson asked why the city would want to take over and keep annexing the extra areas in the county and cover that themselves if it's not based on the city getting the additional revenue. "Why pay you when we could use the money to support ourselves instead of your [Cleveland] revenue?" Griffith added, "It is not the duty of Bradley County citizens to subsidize the city's budget."

Thompson concluded his thoughts by saying that if it came down to a contract with the City of Cleveland for fire protection, then he would make a motion to bid out the fire protection to other professional fire services companies to try to get the best deal possible.

Commissioner Adam Lowe presented a counter offer that he asked the commission to consider sending back to the city, but it still involved a 10 year contract with the City of Cleveland.

A joint city/county meeting will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, December 15th at 4 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss fire protection.