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Heated Debate Surrounds Fire Contract
by Ashley Murphy

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the good news side, Chief Daniel Phillips and Deputy Chief Danny Yates came before the Bradley County Commission to openly thank the Bradley County Fire Department for their efforts and support during the devastating flood that overtook Nashville in May of this year.

Yates wished to "express a profound gratitude" to the Bradley County Fire Department for extending their arm during a time of immense need. Yates then recognized the individual firefighters by giving them a certificate for their efforts.

Commissioner Jeff Morelock requested that a formal resolution be placed on next week's agenda to commend the Bradley County Fire Department for their efforts.

Bradley County Trustee Mike Smith brought more good news about a new payment plan for property taxes. The Tennessee Comptroller's office has given Smith the go ahead to implement a 12-month payment plan for Bradley County residents. Those paying their property taxes through this plan will be able to make payments through automatic bank withdraws, pay by mail or they can bring their payment down to the courthouse and make payments in person to the Trustee's Office. (Check back for a more detailed story.)

After all of the good news, discussion turned heated when Commissioner Adam Lowe, stemming from his motion to postpone made at last week's commission meeting, brought forth his own insight as to options for the future of the Bradley County Fire Department. This began a heated debate amongst a few of the commissioners.

Commissioner Mel Griffith was the first to speak on the grounds that the commission had already voted for the fire department to go county-only in 2013. Commissioner Jeff Yarber disagreed, saying he had no recollection of the commission ever voting such a way. Commissioner Howard Thompson agreed with Griffith and questioned Mayor Davis on the subject. Davis stated that to the best of his knowledge, the vote was to approve a county-only plan.

Lowe stated that his intentions were not to start an argument, he just simply wanted some answers to a matter in which he was only vaguely familiar with. Lowe had the chance to review the current plan with Mayor Davis and was able to get many of his questions answered. That being said, Lowe stated he saw no further reasoning to postpone the vote to purchase the property off of Georgetown Road for a new county fire station. Further, Lowe went on to say that in his review of the subject, he found no documentation of a vote that approved a move toward a count-only fire department. He also stated he found no documentation that supported a merger or continued contract with the City of Cleveland.

After several back and forth "history lessons" between Yarber and Griffith, Commissioner Connie Wilson made light of the situation and stated that the commission did approve a plan to go alone, there was just no funding plan to go along with it.

Commissioner Ed Elkins had asked Legislative Assistant Amy Moore to review the minutes of the voting meeting in which this motion was made and passed and to transcribe those minutes to bring before the commission for review. Elkins also placed the purchase of the land for a new fire hall on next week's agenda.

Gary Farlow and Doug Berry were also present at the meeting to present the commission with a resolution to approve and amendment to an existing payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement with Whirlpool Corporation and approving a new PILOT with Whirlpool for new manufacturing and distribution facilities.

Whirlpool will be constructing a new 1,000,000 square foot facility at Benton Pike and Michigan Avenue that will produce and distribute cooking products. Anticipated capital investment in real property is currently estimated around $80,000,000. It is hoped that this will provide for the creation, or retention, of 1,630 employees.

Due to this investment and retention of jobs, the Industrial Development Board recommends a new pilot for Whirlpool to include a 100% tax abatement from the county on all new assets located at the new Benton Pike site. Beginning on December 13, 2013, the new PILOT payments and tax abatements will commence. The PILOT will have a term of 20 years, with Whirlpool make graduate PILOT payment starting at 5% (a 95% tax savings) and increasing 5% per year over a 9 year period. After this, the PILOT payments will be fixed at 50% for the remainder of the 20 year term.

In addition to $6.5 million in grants being received from the State of Tennessee, Bradley County and the City of Cleveland will be responsible for splitting approximately $1.8 million in expenses related to the project.

The resolution will be voted on at next week's meeting.

The Bradley County Commission will meet again Monday, September 20th at 10 a.m. in the Courthouse.