White Pine Fire Service May Be Forced To City Only Without Additional Funding From County

The Jefferson County Pubic Service Committee, an arm of the Jefferson County Commission, met on Monday to address funding, territory and sub station issues with the local Fire Chief’s Association at the directive of the County Commission’s Budget Committee. Monday evening’s meeting was the second time the local Fire Departments and the Public Service Committee have come together during 2017/2018 budget season. The Fire Chief’s Association had requested an across the board increase for local fire departments from the current $55,000 per department to $75, 000 for all but New Market Volunteer Fire Department, which would receive $95,000, and the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department who presented “fair division” numbers at $240,000 but acknowledged that a “fair division” was likely out of reach and requested at least a $30,000 increase via representation from their Town Administrator.

Previously, the Public Service Committee, which consists of five County Commissioners ( David Seal, Tim Seals, Dockery, Musick and Carmichael) instructed the Fire Chief’s Association to bring back an equitable funding split, as well as review territory and the possibility of combining stations or sub stations. Chad Cotter, who serves as the Fire Chief of White Pine as well as the Chair of the Fire Chief’s Association informed the Committee that the meeting of the Fire Chief’s did not change the request for increase in funding. Cotter noted that $55,000 is the bare minimum for a department to function and those that answer the bulk of the service calls, such as Dandridge, White Pine and New Market, should be funded at an even higher level to off set the expenses that are incurred. Cotter said that there were some small shifts in territory but that the divisions were determined by the ability to respond quickly to a location and, as no new departments have been added, there is no logical broad shift. A small section in the Strawberry Plains area that was serviced by Dandridge will now be serviced by the Strawberry Plains sub station and New Market will now be participating in mutual aid.

Chief Cotter informed the Committee that White Pine will be forced to go to a city only fire department if more funding is not contributed from the County and reminded the Committee that other municipalities are facing like situations where the fire costs to city residents far exceeds that of County residents. Currently, Jefferson City is a paid city fire department. Cotter said that he was authorized to make the plea for additional funding and to inform the Committee of White Pine’s alternative plan should additional funding be denied.

Committee Member Carmichael, who had previously indicated that he had an alternate plan to present, declined to make a presentation. Committee Member Dockery offered a motion to fund all departments( including Parrots Chapel who, according to the Budget Committee, did not comply with a timely application for funding) at the same level as the current fiscal ( $55,000 per department, with sub station funding at $25,000 for New Market and $55,000 for Rescue Squad ) with no increase. His motion was 2nd by Carmichael and passed 3-1 with Commissioners Seal, Carmichael and Dockery voting in favor. Commissioner Tim Seals voted no and Musick was absent.

In addition to receiving no additional funding, members of the Fire Chief’s Association were informed that a Commission Resolution that established guidelines for sub station funding was out of order. Commission Chairman Carmichael stated that he had problems with the resolution because it obligates funding from one year and group of elected officials to the next. He said “ the resolution and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee.” Carmichael stated that he would be contacting the County Attorney to address the validity of the resolution. In a motion by Carmichael and 2nd by Tim Seals a request was made for the Fire Chief’s minutes from their meeting to be submitted to the budget committee by the committees next meeting. The motion passed unanimously.

The Public Service Committee will present their recommendation to the Budget Committee at their next meeting.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

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