Public Service Committee Passes Torch Back To Fire Chiefs
Fire Department Funding was the topic of discussion as the Jefferson County Public Service Committee met last week at the Patriot Academy. Charged by the Budget Committee with reviewing established areas of service, the possibility of combining stations and bringing back a formula for equitable funding, the Public Service Committee and representatives of most of the various fire departments, as well as the Fire Chiefs Association and the Town of Dandridge and the Jefferson County Rescue Squad, came together to share information and hear requests. The Fire Chiefs Association has requested a $20,000 per department increase including the Rescue Squad noting that there has been no across the board increase to funding in multiple budget cycles. The Town of Dandridge requested a more equitable split in funding, noting that they shoulder most of the county calls but the department largely funded by the city tax payers inside the city limits of Dandridge.
Chad Cotter, the head of the Fire Chiefs Association, spoke at length about the challenges facing the various departments. He noted that smaller departments are carrying the most debt because they have no funding from a city source like Dandridge, White Pine and Jefferson City. Cotter stated that cutting the smaller department’s funding would result in an inablilty to pay their debt. He explained that departments with city funding have little or no debt because it would be impacting to the city’s credit rating, noting that it was difficult for a limited number of city tax payers to cover the costs for the service outside the city limits and an increase was needed to off set those costs and debt to debt was not a good method of assessing needs. Cotter also informed the Committee that, other than a few very limited areas, there is no way to redistribute service areas because of the current location of stations and sub stations.
With a Motion from Committee Member Tim Seals and 2nd from Committee Member Carmichael the Committee voted 4-0 (Seals, Carmichael, David Seal and Musick) to instruct the Fire Chief Association to bring back recommendations to the Public Service Committee for redistributing fire service lines, combining sub stations and equitable funding. The information will not be available for the next Budget Committee Meeting where non profits such as fire departments were expected to make their presentation. It is unclear if the Budget Committee will address Fire Department Funding at their scheduled meeting or if they will put the item on hold until it a recommendation can be brought back via the Public Service Committee. It is also unclear what impact the delay will have on the Town of Dandridge and the City of White Pine as they work to approve their city budgets.