Funding Forces Dandridge To City Only Fire Service – Town Offers Fire Service Contract To Jefferson County

In a meeting that saw the first reading the the fiscal year 2017/2018 budget, the hot topic for Tuesday, May 9, 2017 meeting of the Dandridge Board of Mayor and Aldermen was funding for the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department. For several fiscal cycles, the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department has requested additional funding from Jefferson County to off set the number of service calls that are answered outside the city limits. This year, with the Town and Fire Department facing tough questions about equipment funding and needs, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen sent representatives from the Town Administration to plead the case to the Jefferson County Budget Committee. Town Administrator Peagler offered an extensive presentation to the Budget Committee and the Public Service Committee that outlined the areas of service of the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department outside the City limits and the cost of providing that service to the County residents, which is shouldered largely by tax payers in the Town of Dandridge. Numbers indicate that the average County resident pays only $15 for fire service,while property tax payers in the Town of Dandridge pay nearly $140 annually for fire service and that cost is on the rise. Currently, the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department provides service to 47% of the residents of Jefferson County but, like all other County Fire Departments, they receive only $55,000 annually in funding. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department had been pinning their hopes for additional funding on a recommendation from the Public Service Committee which was charged with addressing an equitable split in funding for the County fire contributions, as well as re addressing service boundary lines. Monday evening the Public Service Committee met and voted 3-1 to recommend the same funding formula that has been in place for several years with each department receiving level funding despite areas of coverage.

With their own budget deadline looming and no avenue for any increase on the horizon, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen suspended the rules to address the ongoing funding situation and potential avenues of action. Alderwoman Marianne Reese, who is the acting liaison between the Fire Department and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, attended the Public Service Committee meeting and reported that there appeared to be no intent on the part of the Committee to answer the Town’s plea for additional funding to help tax payers inside the City limits off set the cost of covering calls for the County. Also in attendance at the Monday evening Public Service Committee meeting was Alderman Jeff Depew. Both Depew and Reese were in agreement that, though numerous attempts were made to secure additional funding, the Committee appeared to be set on keeping funding at the current level. Previously it was mentioned that some funding could be available due to Parrot’s Chapel Fire Department missing its deadline to file a funding request but even that small amount of funds appeared to be off the table, according to the motion presented by the Public Service Committee.

Board Members discussed at length the weight of a decision that would possibly cut off fire service to a part of the County. Town Administrator Peagler and Mayor Gantte stated that they met with officials from White Pine regarding the issue. White Pine has sent a letter of intent to end their fire service outside the City limits of White Pine on July 1, 2017 and will offer the County a contract for servicing County residents for the amount of $75,000 annually. It will be up to the County Commission to determine if they want to enter into a contract for fire service with White Pine Fire Department or if they will be making other arrangements for their County residents.

Like White Pine, the residents inside the city limits of Dandridge are currently shouldering the financial burden for fire service in the County. Dandridge is also facing the replacement of a fleet of aging trucks and equipment over the next several years. While the consensus of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, as well as representatives from the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department, was regret and concern for County residents, it was noted that the County was adamant about having no property tax increase but appear to be comfortable with a property tax increase for the residents of the Town of Dandridge to pay for both County and City infrastructure needs. Alderman Depew stated “ They don’t want to raise taxes to pay for their infrastructure but it seems like there is no concern if it forces Dandridge into a property tax increase. We pay for our infrastructure and they should pay for theirs.” Alderman Chambers agreed that the County needs to up their contribution to the fire department and cover their costs rather than expecting Town residents to far outspend their County counterparts.

Members of the BMA acknowledged the good job and service that is provided by the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department, and expressed a commitment to making any changes to a city only fire department palatable for department members. Representatives from the DVFD stated that, while they hate to see the change, they understand that it is simply not feasible for the property owners in the Town of Dandridge to pay for coverage for 47% of the population of Jefferson County.

Alderman Depew offered a motion to instruct the Town Attorney to construct a contract with Jefferson County for fire service for a designated service area at a price to be determined by the BMA and to negotiate a coverage agreement with White Pine. He was 2nd by Aldermen Nelson. After debate regarding the amount of funding requested for service, Nelson suggested a rate of $100,000 annually with 5% annual increase over the term of a five year contract. Alderman Kesterson, who also sits on the Jefferson County Commission as a representative for District One, stated that he has no problem with the offer of a contract or becoming a city only fire department but would like to see the deadline to contract the services set out one year to allow the County to make other arrangements. After discussion, it was determined to meet at the half way mark with a six month deadline for contracting service or Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department will become a city only fire department. Depew and Nelson accepted the financial terms and deadlines by consent and the Motion Passed 5-2 with Elder and Kesterson voting No. Should the County determine that they do not want to contract services and fire service is suspended outside the limits of the Town of Dandridge, those that are in the growth boundaries can request annexation which would include fire service among other services and the consensus was that requests would be heard expediently.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

Jefferson Farmers Co-op 08112014