Fire Dept. Funding Hot Topic At Dandridge Board Of Mayor & Aldermen

The Dandridge Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the allocation of up to $425,000 for a new fire truck to address the need to send multiple trucks for water carry load at their regular voting meeting Tuesday evening, March 13, 2018. Fire Chief Andy Riley made the presentation for a new truck, which has been in the plans for the BMA for several budget cycles, at last week’s work session and BMA members debated the benefits of a custom vs commercial vehicle. In the end, the decision was made to allow Riley to purchase the best fit for the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department with the funds allocated.

Fire Department needs and funding have been a hot topic for the Town of Dandridge, reoccurring annually with the determination of the level of funding contribution from the Jefferson County Commission. While Dandridge received the first increase in funding for the fire department of any substance from the County during the current fiscal year, the up coming fiscal year’s budget debate did not see the kind of additional increase that Dandridge Mayor George Gantte had hoped for the upcoming fiscal year. Gantte was openly derisive of the Budget Committee Chair’s position regarding an increase in funding, again raising the issue of city only coverage in answer to this year’s proposed minimal increase over the current year’s funding. The local municipalities, including the Town of Dandridge Mayor and Administrator, met with County Commission Chair Tucker and County Mayor Palmieri to discuss a funding plan for local departments. The plan presented to the County Budget Committee did not find favor with the full Committee and was cut, tweaked and amended by several committee members before finding enough votes for approval. While Dandridge has the most populated service area and part of the algorithm included population, cuts resulted in the per population base pay for Dandridge being much lower than other departments. Gantte stated that he spoke to County Budget Chairman Scarlett and that the conversation became heated with Scarlett asking why Dandridge did not address the inequities at the time of presentation and before a vote was taken. Gantte countered that the process was not clear with several changes and amendments and that the opportunity did not present itself at the time. Despite the feeling that Town residents are, again, paying more than their fair share of cost of the coverage provided by the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department, the determination was made by the BMA to instruct Administrator Peagler to put the approved funding allocation of around $89,000 on the request form which is due to the Jefferson County Finance Office before the budget committee officially address the County’s non profits allocation.

With the County budget being a work in progress, it remains to be seen if the approved funding allocation will hold up through the entire budget process. As for a City only department, that decision appears to be on hold for the upcoming fiscal year, though it could be on the table sooner rather than later if a County funding contribution remains out of reach. Dandridge is currently in their budget season and the Dandridge Volunteer Fire Department will be sending out donation letters this spring. In anticipation of a potential split, funds from those donations will be separated into County resident and City resident contributions to provide a clear picture of funding.

In other action, the BMA approved several resolutions including one regarding service dogs in Town building and on Town property, zoning resolutions and funds to repair the County recycling truck.