A vote today by Obion County officials has brought the county wide expansion of a subscription fire service. This, of course, is the same county that made big news after the South Fulton Fire Department refused to extinguish a blaze at the home of a non-subscriber.
We have been keeping in touch with one of the fire chiefs whose municipal department also has supplied subscription fire protection for a part of Obion County. Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison has, with the other municipal chiefs, been working for some time to get Obion County to implement a fire tax and do away with the subscription service. In this guest column, Chief Edmison gives us his reaction to today’s developments:
The Obion County Court today (10/18/2010) voted 15 to 3 (21 members; 3 not present) in favor of implementing county wide subscriptions. Basically the county will collect the fees at the court house and distribute them to the 8 municipalities. There is definitely mixed emotions among the fire chiefs. Though this may be a step forward in getting needed funds into the hands of the departments; it is still far from the goal of having a fire tax or fire fee to provide 100% coverage for all county residents.
Commissioners also voted 17 to 1 in favor of an amendment that this issue of a fire tax/fee will be placed as a referendum on the ballot at the next general election in 2012.
It has been stated that the county could petition the state for a “public act” which would allow Obion County to set up, their own fee structure; independent from the TN fire tax code. This could be done, and needs to be investigated and followed through. This could be done much prior to 2012. In the mean time, the subscription service program would begin July 1, 2011. It is my guess that the remaining 5 departments who presently do not have a subscription service will more than likely implement a policy to go on everything and bill a member and non-member rate. I think it also fair to surmise that Kenton, Union City and South Fulton will continue with the current policy of responding only to covered structures. A two level rate structure will cover everyone, but in my opinion, it will hurt the over all process of producing optimal funds.
The saddest point I want to make is that you would have hoped that the court house would have been packed. It wasn’t. There were only three county residents in attendance that spoke up. (One being, a member of the Cranick family.) The remainder of the crowd consisted of news media and firefighters.
My opinion still stands; that it is hard to protest a city policy that protects its city tax payers; when the residents of the county do not seem to care enough to show up and voice their concerns. Then again, with over 70% of the people in our rural coverage area supporting our subscription program, maybe they are voicing their opinions.
Again, I do not like the subscription program. It doesn’t let firefighters be firefighters. But it has been, and will continue to be, the policy that our department is forced to follow until the city changes its policy; until the county court implements a fire tax/fee or until the county residents care enough about fire protection and demand that something different be done.
What took place in South Fulton’s rural area, more than likely will happen again. “Government” has always reacted in a “knee jerk” fashion, and sadly, too many times after the event. And as we all know, when it happens to the “right person’ something positive will take place. I can assure you, the Obion County fire chiefs aren’t through ‘fighting.”