By Going Through the Process

editorial-logo3This week I expect that there will be some discussion about the funding level of the fire departments. Now whether that discussion is a part of the budget committee meeting or if it is just among those that follow such things remains to be seen, but it is unlikely that the recent work session of the Dandridge Board of Mayor and Aldermen will go unnoticed.

As most are hopefully aware, work session are just that: a time for members to come together and work on issues before casting votes at a later meeting. If everything that happens in work session, every idea or mention or question, were to find its way into policy, the people would be in deep trouble. Work Sessions are designed to be a time to ask questions and broach subjects that may never find their way onto any agenda for vote. It was at one such session last week that the Dandridge Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed fire department funding contributions from Jefferson County. As many may recall, the current budget cycle found an increase across the board for fire departments, and during a recent budget committee meeting the committee was presented with an algorithm for funding county fire departments for the upcoming fiscal year. Representatives from the municipalities met with representatives from the County and came up with a funding formula. Of course, the funding formula was tweaked and shaved and adjusted and morphed and by the time that it passed the budget committee it no longer allocated funding largely on population. So, Dandridge,which represents the largest population base by far, ended up getting fewer dollars per resident served than smaller departments.

Now, here are a few things that need to be considered. The funding formula was not presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Dandridge before it was presented to the county budget committee. No vote was taken in support or against the formula, just like no vote has been taken in support or opposition of the funding level approved by the county budget committee for the upcoming fiscal year’s funding. As of today, there has been no official action from the BMA of Dandridge on the county funding contribution for the upcoming fiscal year for the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department. Was there conversation at the work session? Yes, there was conversation that was precipitated by Town Administrator Peagler asking what she should denote, as the requested level of contribution on funding request forms that are due to the county budget committee in the next few weeks.

I like to keep my ear to the ground so as not to be surprised in meetings. But, I must admit that I was a little surprised by the rumble that work session discussion has caused among some county commissioners. They know the drill. Work sessions are for discussion and voting meetings are for voting. It is a shame that there is such a valley dividing some members of the county commission and the Town of Dandridge. I would like to think that anyone sitting on the county policy making and funding body would have the best interest of all of Jefferson County at heart, but sometimes I wonder. There seems to be a lot of antagonism between some commissioners and the town. I remember a time in Jefferson County when we were divided into sections with each out for only their own. Much of that disappeared with the building of Jefferson County High School, but it does still exist for some in the county, and it is prevalent at budget time.

Does Dandridge deserve a bigger piece of the pie? Dandridge deserves exactly the same piece of the pie that any other department or municipalities would get in the same situation. The hard truth is that Dandridge simply cannot get substation fire department funding and that is the path that is designed to add additional funding for additional area covered. The budget committee removed a funding avenue that would have had Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department receiving funds for covering county buildings. It was a way to make up some of the difference in the substation funding gap, and it didn’t fly with the budget committee. I understand that Dandridge is dependent on Jefferson County in ways that other municipalities are not and, likewise, the county is dependent on Dandridge in ways that it is not dependent on other municipalities in the county. Right now, Dandridge and the County exist as uneasy bedfellows, with each trying to steal the covers from the other. Personalities and preconceptions need to be put aside for the best interest of the Town of Dandridge and Jefferson County. As for whispers and suppositions, it is all just fodder until votes are cast. After all, official action is the only true way that any government speaks.

Source: K. Depew, News Director