Nashville Fire Department Deputy Chief Danny Yates said he traveled to Bradley County because it was the right thing to do.
“I want to express my profound gratitude to members of Bradley County Fire-Rescue for their willingness to give of themselves and their resources to use their swift-water training and expertise to extend their arms — literally extend their arms — in the rushing water to save numerous citizens of Nashville and Davidson County.”
Yates said he wanted to use “good, old fashioned face-to-face communications” to thank the county fire department for coming to the aid of the Nashville Fire Department with lots of people and a big budget when it asked for help from a smaller department staffed by both paid and volunteer personnel.
“That’s outside the norm. Usually, the norm is fire departments don’t like to ask for help. We found out in a hurry we needed help,” he said, and began reciting “Help” by the Beatles.
Yates called for statewide mutual aid on May 1, and Bradley County Fire-Rescue responded the following day, a Sunday. He said Bradley County made swift water rescues in some of the fastest moving water of the entire event. Homes were swept from their foundations and several deaths occurred.
“They were in the hot zone right away,” Yates said. “I feel quite certain Bradley County Fire-Rescue accomplished evacuating and saving more Nashvillians than I’m aware of.”
He presented certificates of recognition to BCFR Chief Dewey Woody, Capt. Stoney Mathews, Lt. Don Tankersly, Bryan Bird, Ronnie Goss, Wes Goss, Hank Smith, James Smith, Marcus Cochran, Don Cross, Nathan Custer and Michael McCabe.
Woody thanked commissioners for helping build a “world class” fire department. He said, “We hope we never have to use our skills. Unfortunately, as the world turns, we do that daily.”
The thank yous were followed by a lengthy discussion on fire contracts and revenue after 4th District Commissioner J. Adam Lowe asked how an independent county fire department would be funded.
He said the current five-year plan to move to an independent fire department is flawed. The plan assumes moving to a county-only fire department, though the commission has not yet formally adopted a plan. The last action was to sign a three-year agreement with the city of Cleveland through June 30, 2013.
“I personally do not believe any of the questions I have should impede progress to approving the property purchase,” Lowe said. He was referring to an acre of land for a fire station in Hopewell. The commission is scheduled to vote on purchasing the property on Monday.
Another question raised by Lowe was, if the fringe area is redrawn, whose taxes will increase and whose will decrease? And, what are the potential effects on ISO ratings and how ill that influence home insurance premiums?
He said there are three options for developing a formal plan for fire coverage: merge fire and rescue services, renew some form of fringe contract with the city, or segregate services by eliminating the current contract with the city.
Lowe said if nothing is done, a county fire department will emerge over the next two years when the current contract expires in 2013.
“I am seeking a structured plan with adequate revenues, a fair tax base, and reasonable timeline of events since the fiscal component of this process is the responsibility of this commission,” he said. If the commission proceeds with an acceptable plan of taxation, it should be done with transparency and clarity. “My deepest fears are that we choose to proceed with a plan which includes an inequitable tax base (and) underestimates revenues, which places greater pressure to subsidize on the general tax base,” he said. “I am confident that, provided we can openly answer these questions, a palatable plan can be developed.”
Sixth District Commissioner Mel Griffith said there was a plan in place and he didn’t see the need to reopen the discussion on a contract that should have ended years ago.
Fifth District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said he didn’t remember voting to establish a county-only fire department. He said if that’s the way the commission decides to go, then he would support that decision.
“No matter what we decide to do, the commission will still have input in the rural area,” he said.
He said commissioners also needed to consider placement of fire departments with regard to the city’s annexation plan. He is concerned that plan could potentially result in county fire departments ending up inside the city limits and city trucks having to drive past county stations to respond to an emergency.
“We always hide our heads in the sand until the last minute and then we’re rushed to make a decision,” Yarber said.
He said members needed to discuss it now so they can make decisions.
Lowe said he understood the senior commissioners have been discussing fire departments and contracts for many years and he did not endorse any particular plan. However, the last vote taken by commissioners was for Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis to sign a three-year contract with the city, which only served to buy the county more time.
“I don’t want to have to ask him to buy us more time if we are going to a county-only department, hence the reason I bring this up today,” Lowe said.
Fourth District Commissioner Howard Thompson said the plan is in place and it is being followed.
“We’re not hiding our heads under nothing,” Thompson said in response to Yarber’s comment. “I don’t think anybody has hid their head under anything. It’s all been in the open.”
He said he was not sure of the problem unless someone wants to change the direction of the plan.
“If you do, then I have a problem with that because we went through this plan and we’re working on this plan,” Thompson said.
After more discussion between Yarber and Griffith, Lowe reiterated for the third time that in no way did he oppose a county-only fire department.
“However, if the plan that is in place is the plan that you have approved, it has serious flaws in the tax base, in my opinion,” he said.
Lowe said the current contract suggests the fringe tax cannot be used for anything other than contracted fire services with the city of Cleveland. If that’s the case, it might be unethical to collect taxes from constituents to pay for county fire protection.
“This commission, if we wish to proceed with this plan, needs to do the responsible thing and have a conversation about the tax base in the future years of this project and we approve a tax, or we vote on a tax, or we discuss whose taxes are going up and whose taxes are going down.”