The Long Way Home

editorial-logo3This is the month that Jefferson County begins the budget season but the Budget Committee got a jump start on one of the most controversial budgeting items this week as it addressed fire department funding. As some may remember, last budget season fire department funding was the hot topic and, though all eventually walked away with money money in their coffers, it came down to a battle of the departments. Nothing can interfere with a brother or sister hood like money and it is always apparent when the various departments get together that everyone is looking to take care of their own. Not that I blame them, mind you. They already dedicate their time and energy toward community service and, if the danger is not enough stress, they have to worry about paying the departmental bills.

Last year, most departments walked away at least $10,000 better financially and, even though it was stated that the extra cash was a one time deal, it was apparent early on that everyone on the requesting side of the negotiations was hoping to find the previous increase a starting point for this budget season. Well, that didn’t happen exactly but at least generally the departments won’t be losing that additional money. A new norm has been set and that is a good thing for our local departments.

A funding rubric was established that set the base funding at $55,000 and gave increases according to population and a bonus structure. For those that do not have a population base to draw from, an amendment took their funding to $65,000. That took care of most of the smaller departments. As for the largest four, Dandridge, Jefferson City, White Pine and New Market, one department stayed mostly the same funding level( Dandridge), one had a fairly substantial increase ( Jefferson City), one had a small increase ( New Market) and one may have lost a little ( White Pine). Basically, it was a little like taking the long way home.

But, and this is a big, big but, it is done. Had the rubric been followed to the tee, the departments serving the largest population base would have had a more proportional share of the pie. As it sits, the stab at equity of funding based on population went out the door with two amendments. Of course, there is no perfect solution and I look for some sort of amendment in the future to return White Pine to its current level of funding and to be honest, that is only fair.

Like I said, it was the long way home and it discourages departments from giving up territory because a decrease in population means a decrease in funding. But, it is a formula and not just a seat of the pants way to pick a number and dole out funding. And, while it may or may not be done for this upcoming budget season, it is at least a starting point for next year. You gotta start somewhere.

My hope is that this early declaration of fire department funding will alleviate some of the competition between departments and between County Commissioners that side with one department or the other. It is my understanding that our County fire departments operate under mutual aid, meaning one assists the other. It is in the best interest of Jefferson County residents and the men and women that dedicate their lives to protecting those citizens from harm for there to be true unity among departments. Just like it is in the interest of Jefferson County and her residents to have a functioning County Commission that can see beyond their own district and their own biases to act in the best interest of every citizen in Jefferson County, be them a city mouse or a country mouse. Everyone is sharing the same piece of cheese and there has to be an equitable split in how it is divided up.

From my view in the cheap seats I would call this one a relative draw. The best thing about the outcome of the fire department funding meeting is that it is over. At least, mostly over. Then again, until they dot the final I and cross the last T on the fiscal year 2018/19 budget anything and everything is up for grabs, including fire department funding.

Source: Kristen Depew, Editor, Jefferson County Post